How to Make Mouthwatering Sweet and Sour Chicken – effortlessly crispy with the help of an Air Fryer.
I’ve made a lot of variations of Sweet & Sour dishes here, such as this Sweet & Sour Crispy Puffy Prawns and this Three Flavoured Chicken, but I realise I’ve never made a proper Sweet & Sour Chicken! Crispy chicken bites tossed in a harmonious blend of tangy and sweet flavours guaranteed to satisfy your cravings. This is going to be an easy recipe because I’m using an air fryer to fry our crispy chicken before tossing it in an easy Sweet & Sour sauce with ingredients you would already have in your Asian pantry.
Fun Fact: Sweet & Sour Chicken has its roots in Cantonese cuisine, where it was traditionally made with JUST vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce to create that sweet, sour and savoury sauce! Over time, this dish gained popularity and underwent adaptations to suit various regional and international palates… such with this recipe! I love adding tomato ketchup to my sweet and sour sauce – that sweet tang is delicious!
Why you will LOVE this recipe?
- Quick & Easy: This dish utilises ingredients you would already have in your pantry and comes together in 20 minutes or less. Air fryers generally have shorter cooking times compared to traditional methods, making it a great option for those who want a quick and hassle-free meal.
- Healthier Version: We’re using a light coat of oil to air fry this, versus deep frying it. Air fryers require little to no oil, significantly reducing the calorie and fat content of the dish compared to deep-frying.
- CROWD-PLEASER: This is the one dish everyone knows and loves! There’s also no spice in this, so this is a kiddy fave!
What do you need to make Sweet & Sour Chicken?
Tender and succulent pieces of chicken, typically boneless and skinless, form the foundation of sweet and sour chicken. It can be prepared with chicken breasts, thighs, or a combination of both, depending on your preference.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
The star of this dish is undoubtedly the sweet and sour sauce. The sauce’s vibrant flavours are what make sweet and sour chicken truly exceptional. My go-to combination is:
- Tomato Ketchup
- Vinegar: My vinegar of choice is always Apple Cider Vinegar, but rice vinegar or white vinegar works just as fine.
- Light Soy Sauce
That’s it! Sometimes I like to add oyster sauce and use brown sugar instead of regular sugar. This will give it more umami and depth. With this combo, you will get a brown sauce, versus the light red here.
Traditional Chinese takeout recipes will include some sort of fruit juice or extract, such as plum sauce and pineapple juice. I omit those since I don’t use those ingredients. The sauce is meant to create a perfect balance between tanginess and sweetness. This is why I LOVE premixing the sauce first – this will allow you to give it a taste test and adjust accordingly before adding to the dish!
You can add some water to create more of a gravy, but you want to keep the liquid to a minimum to keep the chicken as crisp as possible for longer.
Colourful bell peppers and onions, cut or cubed to similar sizes are often incorporated into sweet and sour chicken. Not only enhance the visual appeal but also provide a delightful contrast of textures and flavours. I love using different colours of bell peppers for the aesthetics, but of course, it’s optional – they all taste the same!
How to Make Sweet & Sour Chicken?
Step 1: Making the Crispy Chicken Bites with an Air Fryer
a. Marinade the Chicken & Coat
Marinade chicken for at least 20 minutes, overnight is best.
Add enough cornstarch to coat chicken. PRO TIP: Add cornstarch to the same marinating container, close it tight, and give it a hard shake. When you’re done, you should get evenly coated chicken!
b. Air Fry Chicken
Preheat Air Fryer to 180°C/356°F. Lay chicken in a single layer and spray with oil until the surface is wet. If you do not have an oil spray, brush on oil instead. Air fry for 20 minutes. Halfway through, flip chicken over to the other side, spray on more oil and finish air frying. This is the Air Fryer I use; but this and this are great options too.
Once chicken is cooked, take out of basket and keep to one side.
- To Deep Fry: The traditional method involves coating the chicken with a batter or breading and deep-frying it to achieve that crispy exterior. The way to do this is the same marinating and battering process as air frying, except we can be more liberal with coating with flour. This is not my favourite method since it can get messy and I just don’t like working with a lot of oil, but this will get you the crispiest chicken.
- To Shallow Fry: Another method is to shallow fry the chicken pieces instead. Add enough oil to your pan or wok, and once hot, arrange the chicken in a single layer. Allow to crisp on one side, before flipping to the other side. Before the air fryer method, this was my go-to!
Can I skip this step altogether?
ABSOLUTELY! I can’t tell you how many lazy days I’ve had where I would just stir fry the chicken without the batter/flour coating and guess what, it’s still delicious!
Step 2: Making the Sauce
Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl and keep to one side.
Step 3: Stir Fry Aromatics and Vegetables
Heat oil in a pan or wok, and saute garlic and ginger. Once aromatic, toss in the capsicums and onions. Give it a quick stir fry, not too long since we want our vegetables nice and crunchy.
Step 4: Add Sauce & Let Bubble
Add in the sweet and sour sauce and stir to combine. Let it come to a boil and allow sauce to thicken.
Step 5: Add back Crispy Chicken
Add back the crispy chicken and toss to coat. Turn off the heat, garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately!
Sweet and sour chicken is typically served with steamed rice or fried rice, allowing you to soak up the delicious sauce.
Here’s a meal idea: create more of the sauce and make noodles out of it! Add water or stock for more sauce and toss it through noodles.
How to Level This Up?
- Bump up the nutrition level with vegetables: I’ll be honest, I ALWAYS add lots of vegetables to my Sweet & Sours! Hardier vegetables work exceptionally well such as broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, carrots, french beans.
- Make it Vegan Options: Replace chicken with tofu or tempeh for a delicious vegan dish of Sweet and Sour Tofu! Skip oyster sauce, or use mushroom seasoning sauce for that umami.
- Make it Spicy: When I need a bit of a kick, I add chilli sauce, sriracha or sambal.
More Recipes Like This
Sweet & Sour Chicken (air fryer recipe!)Course: Recipes
- For the chicken:
300 grams boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch, or enough to coat
Oil to lightly coat chicken
- For the sauce:
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 cup Water
- The Stir Fry:
1 clove garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, sliced
1/2 cup onion, cubed
1/2 cup red + green + yellow bell peppers, cubed
sesame seeds, for garnish
- Air Fry Chicken
- Marinade chicken with light soy sauce, oyster sauce and white pepper. Allow to marinade for 30 minutes, overnight would be best.
- When ready to air fry, take marinated chicken out. Coat chicken cubes with cornstarch. Meanwhile preheat air fryer.
- Place cubed chicken on air fryer rack in a single layer. Spray or brush oil on the chicken pieces until the surface is wet – or when there are no dry, floury surface on the chicken.
- Air fry at 180°C/356°F for 15 minutes. At the midway mark, take basket out, and give it a good shake or flip the chicken pieces over. Give another spray or brush of oil if there are any powdered parts on the chicken.
- Finish air frying. Chicken is crispy and ready for the next step!
- Stir Fry the Chicken
- Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust according to preference. Set to one side.
- Add oil to a pan and saute ginger and garlic until fragrant.
- Add onions and bell peppers next and stir fry for about a minute.
- Add the sweet and sour sauce to the pan, and stir to combine. Allow the sauce to simmer and thicken.
- Add the air fried chicken to the skillet and toss until the chicken pieces are well coated with the sweet and sour sauce.
- Remove from heat and option to garnish with sesame seeds. Serve the sweet and sour chicken hot with rice!