Chinese sweet and sour chicken, in the Netherlands we call this dish koe lo kai. Deep fried chicken in a thin batter with a sweet and sour sauce and some vegetables, usually onions bell pepper and pineapple.
Koe lo kai is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. In Chinese restaurants you will find 2 versions, the “Dutch” version where the pieces of chicken resemble small firm donut holes and the Cantonese version with a thinner layer of dough in less uniform pieces. I prefer the more traditional version, as the westernised version is too doughy and often too oily.
You can also make this recipe with pork tenderloin instead of chicken to make sweet and sour pork. I like it better when the meat is a little more tender so chicken usually has my preference.
Pieces of pineapple are used in many recipes for sweet and sour chicken. I don’t like it much so I skipped it, but you can always add some pieces of canned pineapple if you prefer.
I remember a story from my birth mother. My brother’s friends used to asked her why my brother was so much bigger than them. She told them it was because he ate a lot of sweet and sour pork. They all came to eat “koe lo yuk” at my parents’ restaurant and they all grew taller than my brother. My brother was in fact a bit older than them so that was the reason why he was so much taller at first.
How to make Chinese sweet and sour chicken
Mix bitesize pieces of chicken with soy sauce, rice wine, egg and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add corn starch and mix well. Marinate for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oil to 175°C/350°F.
Fry the chicken for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel.
Mix the ketchup, plum sauce, white vinegar and sugar in a small bowl.
Heat up a large pan or wok with a few tablespoons of oil. Fry the ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the bell pepper and onion fry until slightly tender.
Stir the sauce well and add to the vegetables. Add water and let it heat through for a couple of minutes. Make sure the vegetables still have a bit of a bite. Taste the sauce and add extra vinegar or sugar if desired.
Add the dissolved corn starch and let the sauce thicken.
Finally, add the fried chicken pieces to the pan, toss them in the sauce and serve immediately.
I had a lot of fun researching and making this dish. The frying is done in no time and the sauce is very easy to make.
Tools you need
- Sharp knife
- Cutting board
- Mixing bowls
- Kitchen scales
- Measuring cup
- Heavy pan with tall sides
- Cooking spoon
- Optional oil thermometer
Tips and tricks for making Chinese sweet and sour chicken
This isn’t a very complicated dish. Deep frying might seem a bit intimidating, but you could shallow fry the chicken in a good layer of oil if you prefer. Just make sure you cook the chicken well on all sides and that it is cooked through.
You can replace the chicken with pork tenderloin to make sweet and sour pork.
Make sure not to overcook your vegetables. It’s best if they still have a little bite.
Ingredients for the chicken
- 400 g boneless chicken thighs, in small bite-size pieces
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 egg
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp corn starch
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- 2 tbsp Chinese plum sauce, available at Asian grocery stores
- 4 tbsp white vinegar
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tsp corn starch dissolved in 2 tsp water
- ½ red bell pepper, in bite-size pieces
- ½ green bell pepper, in bite-size pieces
- ½ onion, in bite-size pieces
- 2-3 tbs vegetable oil
Marinating and frying the chicken
Mix 400 grams of chicken thigh pieces with 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine, 1 egg, salt and white pepper to taste. Mix together, then add 4 tablespoons of corn starch and mix well. Cover the bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Fill a heavy pan with tall sides with 1.5-2 inches of vegetable oil. Preheat the oil to about 175°C/350°F on medium heat. Or check the oil with a wooden chopstick (see notes).
Carefully slide the chicken pieces into the oil one at a time and fry the chicken for 5 to 7 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Test a piece to see if it is cooked and adjust the cooking time if necessary. Don't overcrowd the pan so the oil doesn't cool down too quickly.
Drain the chicken pieces on paper towel.
Making the sauce and vegetables
Mix 2 tablespoons of ketchup, 2 tablespoons of plum sauce, 4 tablespoons of white vinegar and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl.
Take a large frying pan or wok and heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil on medium to high heat. Sauté ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the bell peppers and onion pieces and let them cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the ketchup mix to the vegetables. Add ¼ cup water and heat through for a few minutes. Make sure the vegetables still have a little bite. Taste the sauce and add extra vinegar or sugar if desired.
Add the dissolved corn starch and let the sauce thicken.
Finally, add the fried chicken pieces, toss in the sauce and serve with steamed rice.
Never overfill a pan with oil, the oil expands while frying. To be safe you don't want to fill a pan over halfway.
The oil is hot enough when little bubbles form around a wooden chopstick. When these bubble very vigorously the oil is too hot, so turn down the heat and wait for the oil to cool down a bit.
You can add a little sriracha if you want to make the dish a bit more spicy.
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