I was just going to post new photos to update the old sweet sour chicken recipe in the archive. But then the cooked dish turned out to be much better than I expected so I decided that this is going to be a standalone recipe. What makes this sweet sour chicken different? The texture and flavor of the chicken.
The chicken is seasoned the Japanese way with soy sauce, mirin, grated garlic and ginger, before they are coated with potato starch. In Japanese cooking, potato starch is preferred while in Chinese cooking, cornstarch is the default. Potato starch gives the chicken fillets a lighter and crispier crust. And, to heighten the crispiness, the chicken is fried twice.
So, what do we need to cook sweet sour chicken karaage? Chicken fillets, of course. We prefer dark meat here at home. Skin-on or skinless will both work. Just make sure to cut the fillets into bite-size pieces before seasoning quite simply with salt, pepper and, optionally, a pinch or two of chili flakes. To give the dish color, and contrast in texture and flavor, we have diced bell pepper, sliced celery stalk and chunks of fresh pineapple. For subtle spice, there’s onion and garlic.
Now, the sauce. It is a good idea to make the sauce first so that you can make adjustments (too thick or too thin, too sour or too sweet?) before tossing in the vegetables, pineapple chunks and chicken.
Dump sugar into a pan, add rice vinegar and cook until the sugar is melted. You now have a sweet sour syrup to which you want to add seasonings to give it a richer flavor. For this recipe, I stirred in equal amounts of sweet soy sauce, tomato ketchup and oyster sauce, and salt for balance. Everything was boiled together until thickened then a bit of sesame seed oil was drizzled in for aroma. Set the sauce aside (do not remove it from the pan) and cook the chicken.
The seasoned chicken fillets were tossed with potato starch and fried twice. First, over medium heat to cook the chicken through. Then, over high heat to create the crisp crust.
Next, we cook the vegetables. Lightly coat a clean wok or frying pan with oil, turn the heat on HIGH, and stir fry the onion, garlic, celery and bell pepper. I prefer not to add the pineapple chunks at this point because fruit expels it juice when subjected to heat, and I do not want the vegetables to turn soggy unnecessarily.
Check the sweet sour sauce. If it’s too thin, boil for a few minutes. If it’s too thick, add a little water to loosen. Taste and adjust the seasonings. When you’re happy with the flavor balance, dump in the stir fried vegetables, pineapple chunks and chicken karaage.
Toss everything together until every piece of solid ingredient is coated with oil, and the chicken pieces are heated through.
Sweet sour chicken karaage
- 500 grams chicken thigh fillets
- ¼ cup Japanese soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin
- 1 teaspoon grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
Sweet sour sauce
- 1 bell pepper deseeded and diced
- 1 stalk celery sliced thickly
- 1 red onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and minced
To complete the dish
- 1 ¼ cups potato starch you may need more or less, depending on the size of your chicken pieces
- peanut oil or other oil with a high smoking point
- ¾ cup fresh pineapple chunks
Season the chicken
- Wipe the chicken thigh fillets dry with paper towels then cut into cubes. We like 2"x2" cubes but you can make them slightly larger or smaller than that.
- Place the chicken cubes in a bowl, add the soy sauce, mirin and ginger, and mix well.
- Cover the bowl and set aside.
Cook the sweet sour sauce
- Dump the sugar in a pan, add the vinegar and boil until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Add the sweet soy sauce, ketchup, oyster sauce and salt, stir and continue boiling until the sauce is reduced and thickened (see notes after the recipe).
- Stir in the sesame seed oil, turn off the heat and set the sauce aside.
Fry the chicken
- In a wok of frying pan, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least two inches.
- Drain the chicken and toss in starch.
- Over medium heat (310F to 325F if you're using a thermometer), fry the chicken cubes in batches. Three to four minutes per batch or just until the coating starts to turn crisp. Let the chicken rest on a rack or spread in a strainer as you fry the next batch, and so on.
- When all the chicken cubes have been fried, turn up the heat to high (that's 350F to 375F with a thermometer). Fry the chicken cubes a second time, in batches, for another two minutes.
Stir fry the vegetables
- Spread a thin layer of cooking oil in a pan.
- Set the heat on HIGH and stir fry the onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery for half a minute.
- Set the vegetable aside.
Complete the dish
- Reheat the sauce and add the pineapple chunks, stir fried vegetables and fried chicken.
- Toss thoroughly to coat everything with sauce.