Sweet and Sour Chicken

My proudest kitchen moments are the ones where I am at my most resourceful. On Sunday, I opened my refrigerator to find two raw chicken breasts leftover from a chicken segment we shot for food2.com. The easy option would’ve been to roast them in the oven (I was going to write “bake them in the oven,” but doesn’t roasted chicken always sound better than baked chicken?), but instead I decided to channel my inner Chinese cooking goddess. I flipped open my copy of “The Breath of a Wok” by Grace Young and looked for recipes you can do easily with chicken breasts. I found one for Sweet & Sour Chicken and, even though I didn’t have a wok or several of the ingredients, I proceeded anyway. This is my story.

It’s interesting because I had a conversation recently with my friend Brendan, a barrista at Joe The Art of Coffee on Waverly, about The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. He said it was his favorite book to cook from and I said I really liked it, but I didn’t have the patience for it. “I’m an instant gratification kind of guy,” I explained, “I think I’m better suited to fast, spontaneous cooking.”

The kind of cooking I was talking about, it ends up, is Chinese cooking. It all happens very fast and I love that.

You prep your stuff, you heat up your wok (or in my case, your non-stick skillet) and when a drop of water sputters and spatters you do your thing.

Like this sweet and sour chicken. The hardest part is all the prep (full recipe below): first you cut up your chicken breasts into one-inch pieces. You put them in a bowl with 3 or 4 cloves of slivered garlic. Add soy sauce, rice wine (I didn’t have that), corn starch, sugar, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, you mix together chicken broth (I didn’t have that so I used water), black soy sauce (I just used regular soy sauce), sesame oil (didn’t have), rice vinegar (I used red wine vinegar), ketchup (I mixed ketchup and Sriracha, which made it spicy!), corn starch, sugar and salt. You cut up your vegetables–which might include broccoli and a red bell pepper, but I didn’t have that either–so I just chopped some scallions. Here’s my prep.


After that, it all happens so fast, it’d take twice as long to order Sweet and Sour chicken from your local take out. You heat your pan (or your wok), you add vegetable oil, and add all the chicken.


You let it brown on all sides, then remove it to a plate. Then you add your vegetables, cook those for 30 seconds. Then you stir in the sauce, swirl it all around, add back the chicken and cook two minutes. You’re done! Congratulations: you’ve made homemade Sweet and Sour Chicken.


This isn’t as cloyingly sweet as the Sweet and Sour chicken you’re used to. It’s got deep, robust flavor and, if you sub Sriracha for some of the ketchup, a bit spicy. We really liked it and subbing ingredients here and there, I didn’t have to spend 2 cents to make it. So give it a whirl and indulge that part of you that enjoys instant gratification, your inner Chinese cooking goddess.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young & Alan Richardson

12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry

3 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/3 cup Homemade Chicken Broth

2 teaspoons black soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 scallions, cut into 2-inch piecs

1. In a medium bowl combine the chicken, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the soy sauce, the rice wine, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cornstarch, the 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Set aside. IN a small bowl combine the broth, black soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, ketchup, and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set the sauce aside.

2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and carefully add the chicken, spreading it evenly in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the chicken begin to brown. Then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is browned on all sides but not cooked through. Transfer to a plate.

3. Swirl the remaining 2 teaspoons vegetable oil into the wok, add the peppers and scallions, and stir-fry 30 seconds. Stir the sauce and swirl into the wok. Return the chicken to the wok and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce has slightly thickened.

Serves 4.

Let's dish!

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