This healthy sweet and sour chicken recipe can be made with or without pineapple (your choice!) and an easy homemade sauce instead of bottled! It’s quick and easy – perfect for a weeknight dinner!
I love take-out as much as the next gal… there’s minimal cooking, minimal clean-up and almost always enough leftover for the next day.
But I’m not really a huge fan of that MSG-induced post-meal bloat. You?
I usually make Instant Pot Honey Garlic Chicken or Kung Pao Chicken instead, since both are ready in less than 30 minutes. But now that I know how easy it is to make Sweet and Sour Sauce, my new favorite dinner crush is sweet and sour chicken!
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Sweet and sour chicken can be made in less than 30 minutes – especially when you use your Instant Pot (I have this 8-quart model) and/or have most of the meal components already done. For example:
- Extra Instant Pot Brown Rice in the freezer
- Leftover Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken in the fridge
- An assortment of raw (or cooked!) veggies in the fridge so I can make Instant Pot Steamed Veggies
The only component I might not have ready is the sauce, but it whips up on the stove in just a few minutes. Plus the sauce freezes really well, so it can be ready for the NEXT time a craving for take-out hits!
My sweet and sour chicken may not be authentic Chinese food, but I can tell you this: it’s delicious!
It’s also the perfect meal for the end of a meal plan – when you know you need to use up leftovers but don’t want to eat the same thing again!
A Weeknight Dinner: Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe
Let’s break down exactly what you need to pull off sweet and sour chicken in record time.
- Chicken. Ideally, you want to use chicken you have already cooked. I almost always have cooked chicken in the freezer leftover from either Instant Pot Whole Chicken, Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken or Oven-roasted Whole Chicken. If you don’t have chicken already cooked, I included a note in the recipe.
- Rice. Sweet and sour chicken is traditionally served with rice, and my Instant Pot Brown Rice Recipe is not only hands-off, but it comes out perfect every time. (I have this 8-quart Instant Pot and can make a 3x batch of brown rice without increasing the cooking time!) Of course, you can use white rice if you prefer, or you can serve it with Vegetable Fried Rice.
- Vegetables. I almost always see sweet and sour chicken served with broccoli and carrots, and here’s how to steam vegetables in the Instant Pot. You can add whatever vegetables you want though… cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers, zucchini… I recommend using whatever is growing in your garden or is on sale. In the winter, don’t overlook a bag of frozen mixed veggies!
- Pineapple (optional). I LOVE sweet and sour chicken with pineapple, but you can make it without pineapple as well. Here’s the easiest method for how to cut a pineapple, or you can use a can of pineapple chunks. A can of bamboo shoots or water chestnuts would be a great addition, but only if you have them.
- Sauce. I much prefer my easy Sweet and Sour Sauce recipe (which contains pineapple juice and brown sugar) over any store-bought sauce. It’s much healthier, super easy to make and as I mentioned before, it freezes really well.
Is Sweet and Sour Chicken Healthy?
I’ve tested various ways to make chicken for sweet and sour chicken, and in my experience, the fried chicken dipped in batter is not the healthiest option. It makes a big mess too.
I think that any efforts into making the chicken crispy get lost among the other ingredients and sauce, so here’s a great opportunity to take a short cut in the kitchen!
Is Sweet and Sour Chicken Gluten-free?
If you skip the batter and use a gluten-free grain, yes! In fact, as-written, my sweet and sour chicken recipe is naturally gluten-free.
Instant Pot Quinoa is ready in one minute and it’s a great alternative to brown rice (and it freezes well too!).
Is Sweet and Sour Chicken Dairy-free?
Yes! We haven’t used dairy up until this point, and since the sauce doesn’t use dairy, the entire recipe is dairy-free!
How to Make Sweet and Sour Chicken
We could all use a few extra hands and a few extra hours, right? So here are a few short cuts I like to use when making sweet and sour chicken.
- Freeze extra chicken. Not just from this dinner, but from ALL of my chicken dinners. Anytime there’s leftover chicken, I add it to a freezer-safe bag I keep in the freezer. When it’s full, I know I have enough to make sweet and sour chicken!
- Freeze extra sweet and sour sauce. Freeze any extra sauce you have in either ice cube trays (2 Tbsp per cube) or in 1/2 cup increments. Be sure to label your container clearly!
- Use frozen vegetables. I prefer the taste and texture of fresh vegetables, but I’m not beyond using a bag of frozen onions and bell peppers, or a California-style mix when I’m short on time.
- Make rice in bulk, and freeze it. I ALWAYS make extra rice for the sole purpose of freezing it, because I know how much time this saves me later!
- Use your kitchen appliances! This is the 8-quart Instant Pot I use multiple times each week. I use this 6-quart slow cooker as well. Between the two, I can get dinner on the table quickly without having to do much work!
More Sweet and Sour Recipes…
Once you have a batch of sweet and sour sauce, you can easily make a bunch of other similar recipes.
- Use leftover Maple Glazed Pork Chops for sweet and sour pork
- Use 15 Minute Meatballs for sweet and sour meatballs
- Use Instant Pot Steamed Shrimp for sweet and sour shrimp
And when you’re craving Chinese and don’t want sweet and sour, I recommend:
- Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp corn starch
- 1½ Tbsp water
- Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 4 cups cooked rice (I use Instant Pot brown rice)
- 1 lb chicken, cooked and shredded or diced** (either leftover chicken, Instant Pot whole chicken or slow cooker shredded chicken)
- 2-3 lbs mixed vegetables (I like using onions, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower)
- Prepare the Sauce:
- Combine the pineapple juice, vinegar, soy sauce and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring JUST to a low boil, whisking the ingredients every few minutes so the sugar dissolves thoroughly.
- In a mug, make a slurry with the corn starch and water. Add the slurry to the sauce while whisking quickly. Cook for one minute and then reduce the heat to low and set aside.
- Prepare Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Prepare the rice and/or chicken if necessary. Note that this recipe starts with both cooked rice AND cooked chicken.**
- Steam the vegetables on the stove top or follow the instructions for Instant Pot Steamed Vegetables.
- Layer rice, chicken and vegetables in serving bowls. Pour sauce over as desired and serve hot.