Although I don’t get if very often, sometimes when I get the urge for takeout I go for sweet and sour chicken, and invariably I wind up getting chicken fingers with thick, goopy syrup. (Your mileage may vary on that one.) I do like a good chicken finger now and then, but the sauce is a little too syrupy for my taste so it’s always a mild disappointment. Plus, as a freelancer, it doesn’t take too many takeout orders to put my bank into a sad place. So the last time I got the hunger for takeout crud, I got stubborn instead.
Truthfully when I started poking around the kitchen for something to put together, I didn’t have a clue what to do. Beef and broccoli? Well I had broccoli nailed down, we always have it on hand frozen, but the beef part would have been tricky. Chicken? Ok sure we’ve got that… but what to do with it? Well I’d gotten myself some orange-pineapple juice as a treat to help me through the end of a cold, and that got me to thinking, hey, I bet sweet and sour sauce uses juice. A quick search proved that, yup, I guessed right. Ok takeout, to heck with you, I can do this.
I immediately discarded the idea of using an existing recipe as anything other than a general guideline when I saw they wanted a bunch of brown sugar and ketchup and whatnot. A) what a pain, and B) too sweet, blech! I have a habit of winging it when it comes to any kind of cooking outside of baking, so my recipe measurements given below are definitely approximate.
So instead the ingredients I assembled were:
- (Dole) Orange pinapple juice
- (Amore) Double-concentrated tomato paste Amazon
- (Nakano) Rice vinegar Amazon
- Sriracha Amazon
- Lemon Juice
- Soy sauce Amazon (my fav brand is Yamasa)
- Corn starch Amazon
More on how all that works in a minute. (And with some suggested substitutions to work with what you have.)
Someone had mentioned five spice powder online & that got me to thinking further. Of course, we don’t have any, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. I had some but not all the recommended primary spices. So I improvised. What I put together into an old coffee grinder I cleaned out was:
- Anise seed, 1/8tsp or less Amazon (star anise if you’d rather: Amazon )
- About 4 Cardamom pods* Amazon
- 8-10 Whole Black peppercorns Amazon (1lb economy pack, you could split with people! Amazon)
- Powdered Cinnamon, a generous dash Amazon
- 2-3 Whole Cloves Amazon
- Caraway seed, generous dash Amazon
- Red pepper flake, a dash
* I don’t know if it was necessary, but I removed the papery outside of the cardamom pods and just added the dark seeds inside.
I whizzed it all around, and gave everything a good shake, until it was all a fairly light powder that looked well-blended. I thought the cloves would be stubborn but they powdered up just fine.
It smelled pretty good! I was started to get pretty hype about the whole thing.
Or here’s what I did and maybe it’ll work for you.
For the Sauce:
- High-sided skillet pan (See what I used: Amazon )
- About 2 Cups Juice – orange, orange pineapple, or just pineapple
- 1tbsp Vinegar – rice preferred, or apple cider
- 3tsp Soy Sauce
- 1/2tbsp Tomato – ketchup, or tomato paste
- 1/2tbsp Lemon Juice
- Lightly/to taste Salt – plain, garlic, onion, and/or celery
- Corn starch – 2-3 tsp in enough cold water to dissolve (about 1/4 cup)
- Five spice powder – 3-5 pinches, up to 1/4 tsp
- Sriracha – just a squirt
- Tumeric – dash
- Paprika – dash
- Chicken – 1-2 medium sized breast portions
- Red bell pepper – one fresh, or about 3/4 cup frozen mixed peppers
- Carrot – one fresh, or about a half cup matchstick cut
- Broccoli – frozen is fastest, about 3/4 cup
Cool tip: Use whatever veg you like! With fresh, add at the same time as the chicken so it will get tender, with frozen, add shortly before you’re done so it won’t get mushy.
- Rice – one side dish packet or enough for 2 people (Similar to what I used: Amazon )
- Chopped green onion garnish
The Doing It Part
- Make rice according to package directions in a pot or rice maker
- Add juice to skillet
- Add all sauce ingredients except for corn starch to skillet and heat on medium-high for 10 minutes to reduce
- Reduce heat to medium, add chicken and fresh vegetables, stir occasionally until cooked through
- Add corn starch to cold water in a cup, stir until thoroughly combined
- Pour corn starch liquid into sauce, increase heat back to medium high for about 2 minutes
- Reduce heat to medium/medium-low and add any frozen vegetables now
- Stir occasionally, coating chicken and vegetables in sauce
- Turn off heat when all vegetables are cooked to desired firmness
- EAT IT
I was using a single, rather large, very frozen piece of chicken breast! Since it was frozen solid, I stuck it in the pot I was going to use for rice with a little more water than my packet called for, covered it and set it to boil for a while. If you’re using fresh chicken, you can just slice it up into bite-size chunks and set it aside. You can also microwave thaw frozen chicken, but I’m impatient and since I had to boil water for the rice anyway, it seemed like a win-win. While that was going…
Then I poured enough juice into the skillet to fill it about halfway. I set the skillet to 7, medium high, and let it start bubbling. It simmered this way for a little bit before I started adding things.
I put in the vinegar, the lemon juice, a sprinkle of garlic salt, a couple pinches of my “five spice” mixture, the tomato paste, a generous squirt of sriracha, and the dash of soy, stirred everything together, and let it bubble uncovered for about 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes of bubbling away, I checked on the chicken. It was thawed and about halfway cooked through. I took the chicken out, dumped my rice packet in, gave it a stir, covered it, and reduced it to a simmer.
I then sliced the chicken up into pieces that were fairly small, to allow it to cook fairly quickly in the sauce, and added it to my skillet. I turned the heat down to slightly less than halfway, too.
From here, carrot matchsticks were thrown into the skillet, and fresh red pepper chopped into bite size pieces and added also. I gave another light pass with salt, onion and a little celery salt, and gave it a stir.
Another pinch of the “five spice” mix. A quick shake of tumeric powder and paprika. The chicken looked to be cooked all the way through, and the peppers seemed like they had softened a little.
I put 2 teaspoons of corn starch in a measuring cup with about 1/4 of cold water and stirred it until I couldn’t feel any more powder stuck to the bottom. This got dumped into the skillet and everything stirred well again.
Frozen broccoli went in next, and I turned the heat back up momentarily to help thicken the sauce. My tip to you: if you want thicker sauce, use the extra teaspoon of corn starch, OR add the corn starch/water mixture before you add your vegetables and keep the heat high for longer. I wanted to make sure my veg still had some good bite and weren’t too soft, so I backed off the heat and wound up with slightly thinner sauce than I’d hoped for.
Ok just one more pinch of the five spice mix.
Chicken, done. Vegetables, cooked but still firm. Sauce… really good. Nice. I turned that off while the rice finished up & then ate like a dang king.
Things I might do differently next time:
- Adding corn starch mixture before vegetables, and maybe using a little additional corn starch for slightly thicker sauce.
- Probably add baby corn. I love baby corn. Or maybe water chestnuts? Those are so crunchy and good.
- Maybe use a heavier hand with either the vinegar or the lemon juice for a more tart sauce.
- Use crushed pineapple in its own juice instead of orange-pineapple juice.
- Add some onion, or extra green onion.