Sweet-and-Sour Chicken

I am convinced that this dish is a concoction of some Westernized Chinese restaurant. In China, chicken is considered to have such a delicate flavour that it would be a travesty to flavour it with a sweet-sour sauce: beef, yes; pork, yes; chicken, and especially chicken breast, no. Again, I imagine a proprietor thinking, ‘Westerners love sweet-and-sour pork; why not chicken, of which we have many leftovers?’

Here I offer a more balanced, more authentically Chinese approach: the sweet-sour sauce is muted so as not to overwhelm the chicken; and I use chicken thigh meat, which can better stand up to an assertive sauce.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or 675 g ( lb) with skin and bones
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
  • 3 tablespoons slant-cut spring onions, to garnish

For the Batter

  • 65 g ( oz) potato flour or cornflour
  • 35 g ( oz) unbleached plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) water
  • Groundnut oil, for deep-frying

For the Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons Chinese black rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Method

Cut the chicken into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces and mix it with the salt, pepper, sesame oil, light soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine and cornflour.

Mix the batter ingredients in a medium-sized bowl with a whisk and beat until smooth.

Heat a wok or deep pan until it is hot, then swirl in the oil. When it is slightly smoking, turn the heat down. With chopsticks or a whisk, blend the chicken batter. Put the chicken in the batter and mix well. Remove the chicken from the batter with a slotted spoon and deep-fry the pieces for 3 minutes in several batches. Place the deep-fried chicken pieces on a tray lined with kitchen paper to drain.

Blend all the sauce ingredients in a small pan and warm through until the sugar dissolves.

Place the deep-fried chicken on a platter, drizzle the sauce over it, garnish with the spring onions and serve at once.

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