Sweet and Sour Chicken (Paleo, Gluten Free)

24 Apr

Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Let’s talk about Sweet and Sour Chicken for a second. It is probably not surprising to read that while this dish is served in Chinese restaurants in many Western countries, it doesn’t really exist in China. There are several sauces in China that incorporate both sweet and sour tastes, the most common being from the Hunan province, but they’re still a far cry from what you can get at your local Chinese-American restaurant. The reality is that this dish is now nearly more of an American dish than Chinese. On the flip side, the Chinese have their own interpretation of Western tastes – like flying fish roe and salmon cream cheese stuffed crust pizza (Hong Kong Pizza Hut).

But at the end of the day, it’s still a unique and comforting meal, and I thought it would be fun to try and replicate it using Paleo-friendly ingredients. My first order of business was figuring out how to make the sauce without resorting to ketchup as a base; instead, I used a combination of chicken stock, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, tamari, honey, and spices. For the chicken, I used my new breading technique highlighted in Tuesday’s chicken nugget recipe. Lastly, I found that gently simmering the sauce while I cooked the chicken helped the sauce ingredients to perfectly marry, resulting in a balanced, delicious flavor.

For this recipe in particular, I teamed up with the folks at Vitacost; they offered to have me experiment with their online store and see what I could come up with. I had been thinking of trying out this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe for a while now so it seemed like a good fit. I was surprised at how easy and cost-effective it was to use their shop; many of the items in their store were comparable or even cheaper than what I can find locally. Not only that, they had many of the brands we already buy. It was a lot of fun to conceive an entire meal using only their store items (minus the produce and meat). I think Vitacost would be a great resource for three types of people: (1) those who don’t live near a gourmet or international market, (2) those who have a high cost of living (big cities, for example), and (3) those who don’t have time to rummage through the aisles of several stores to find the right ingredients.

Okay, let’s get cooking.

Paleo, Gluten-Free Sweet and Sour Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp tamari (coconut aminos okay)
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp white pepper, more to taste

everything else:
1/4 cup refined coconut oil or lard, more if needed
2 lbs chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp arrowroot starch, divided
1 tsp salt, more to taste
1 tsp white pepper, more to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
2 stalks green onion, sliced

1. In a saucepan, combine the sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer over med/low heat, then reduce the heat to low to gently simmer as you prepare the rest of the meal; stir occasionally.

2. Preheat your oven to 250F. In a wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Combine 1/2 cup arrowroot starch and 1 tsp each salt and pepper. Toss the chicken pieces with the starch mixture, until evenly coated. With your fingers, dip a starchy chicken piece in the egg, shake off the excess egg, then add to the oil. Repeat until you have filled your skillet; be careful not to overcrowd the chicken pieces. Fry the chicken until cooked through, flipping every two minutes, about 6-8 minutes per batch. As you finish each batch, place the cooked pieces on a plate lined with paper towels; put them in the oven to stay warm. You should be able to cook the chicken pieces in about 3 or 4 batches, depending upon the size of your skillet. The oil should reach halfway up the chicken pieces, add more oil if needed.

3. Once the chicken has cooked through, finish the sauce. At this point, the sauce’s flavors should have married nicely; taste the sauce and add more salt or white pepper if needed. If the sauce is too dark and strong tasting, add a little more chicken stock to thin it out. At this point, the sauce should be about as thick as tomato soup and should have a sharp but not overwhelming flavor. In a small bowl, add 1 tbsp of arrowroot starch and a little cold water; stir together to make a slurry. Raise the sauce temperature to medium; once bubbling, add the arrowroot starch slurry and stir until thickened. Remove from heat.

4. Toss the chicken pieces with the sauce, then garnish with sesame seeds and sliced green onions. Serve with white rice or cauliflower rice.

** While the idea of adding egg to the batter after the starch seems counterintuitive, it’s the secret behind the chicken’s crisp yet spongy texture. Just be sure to cook the pieces at no higher than medium heat, otherwise the egg will burn before the chicken is cooked through.

** This technique will work with any number of proteins – sliced steak or pork chop, or shrimp.

** For even more tender chicken, brine the chicken in 1/2 cup water mixed with 1 tbsp kosher salt for an hour before starting this recipe. Be sure to drain and pat dry your chicken after brining.

** Use this starch-then-egg batter technique for any number of chicken nugget recipes. When not tossed in sauce, they have a texture similar to the same nuggets you’d find in Happy Meals. Experiment by adding other ground spices to the starch to give the chicken flavor even when “naked”; marinate the chicken pieces in pickle juice beforehand for an even tastier experience (recipe here).

“naked” chicken nuggets

81 Responses to “Sweet and Sour Chicken (Paleo, Gluten Free)”

  1. physicsjenn April 24, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    There’s also sweet and sour the way a few of the Thai restaurants I’ve been to do it: they stir-fry the chicken with the sauce without breading and deep-frying it first. It’s delicious.

  2. My Life of Spice April 24, 2014 at 10:49 am #


  3. angelica870 April 24, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Reblogged this on angelica robles.

  4. dkorthbooks April 24, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    I can’t wait to try this one!! :)

  5. Mira April 24, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    you have me drooling and I am making this for dinner!

  6. Olivia FitzGerald April 24, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    Oh wow, that recipe really got me salivating. Just emailed it to myself. Nom!

  7. pepperminting April 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    YUM!!! Can’t wait to try it!

  8. thebakingyear April 24, 2014 at 6:09 pm #


  9. jenspaleokitchen April 24, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    Delicious!! I think ill be making this very soon thanks for the recipe!

  10. Anne April 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    So I have noticed a few of your recipes containing white pepper so I went ahead and bought some and it has a really strong smell, some one pointed out it smelled to them like chicken litter.. Do they all have a strange smell or is it just mine?

    • Russ Crandall April 26, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi Anne, white pepper definitely has a distinct, pungent smell to it. I wouldn’t worry about it, unless you don’t care for the taste in the final product. Black pepper is fine, my main reason for using it in this recipe is to maintain a clear looking sauce while adding the extra bite that pepper brings.

    • krystal May 6, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

      Pre- ground white and mixed color pepper smells like goats! Buy whole peppercorn, only a hint of goat.

  11. Whitney Beery April 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    YUM! Wow this looks amazing! I love better ways to make comforting foods. Thank you!

  12. Vickie April 24, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Just made this tonight and it was amazing!!!! Thank you!

  13. confusedbawarchis April 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    That looks yum!

  14. Shalley April 24, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Tried it tonight and t’s really, really good!

  15. Ayako Mathies April 25, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    I don’t think I’ve ever come across sweet & sour chicken in Japan. It’s always pork. The dish looks great.

  16. emmabarrett1508 April 25, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    Delicious. My kind of comfort food. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Emma xx

  17. Magda April 25, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    Russ, this looks so delicious! The chicken nuggets were a big hit with both my husband and older son (my 4 YO is trying them tonight – no doubt he will love them!). I love making Chinese at home and this will add nicely to my kitchen repertoire. My whole family thanks you.

    • Magda May 2, 2014 at 11:02 am #

      A followup: this recipe was a hit with everyone. There wasn’t enough sauce!! Note to self: double sauce recipe next time. Finger-lickin’ good.

  18. Anita April 25, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    Hmmmmmmm, wondering what to serve with this dish!?

  19. Alejandra April 27, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    This was so delicious! The sauce was perfect.

  20. amanandhishoe April 27, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    The idea of eating what our ancestors ate sounds good, but when you go to the supermarket and buy eggs, chicken, pork, beef, most any meat, you can’t buy the type of eggs and meats our ancestors ate. They don’t exist in modern farming. Centuries of breeding and current animal husbandry practices have created animal products that are nothing like what our ancestors age.
    I’ve been raising heritage chickens for eight years now, and these chickens are out at the crack of dawn and spend all day foraging through grassland, brush and forest. The hens hatch and raise their own chicks. The result are eggs that are rich with yolks so flavorful they don’t need salt. And their meat is dense. Chicken you eat with a steak knife. It’s nothing like store chicken. So I wonder sometimes if it’s correct to call these modern meat passed diets Paleo as Paleolithic humans would not recognize them. This is what a roasted rooster looks like: http://wp.me/p44c6k-5n

    • Russ Crandall April 27, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

      Hi, I understand your argument, but as I put in my “About” page, I see Paleo not as a reenactment of prehistoric diets, but rather the use of scientific study and evolutionary evidence to figure out the optimal diet for our modern age. The chickens on your page look great!

    • Hollie May 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

      Yet your olive oil comes from a can and you’re using an oven… Your argument against paleo is the most common and the most unreasonable. I don’t think anyone who eats paleo thinks they are eating what Paleolithic peoples ate.

  21. hboy0312 April 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    hi Russ! I’m originally from Hong Kong, growing up I always thought the sweet and sour sauce is Cantonese or at least southern Chinese. as many noted that the sauce usually goes with pork not chicken, either way, they are both really tasty!
    re the Pizza Hut ad – I would think it’s a localized taste than an interpretation of western flavour… sometimes we get Peking duck pizzas in other pizza chains… if that makes any sense!

    • Russ Crandall April 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

      Hi, you’re right that there is a definitely Cantonese origin to sweet and sour sauce, and many food historians believe that the Cantonese version was originally influenced by the Hunan sauce I mentioned in the post. I also totally agree about the pizza thing, and I think that’s half of the point I was trying to make – taking a foreign food and tweaking it to local tastes and expectations. That’s what the Western world did with Sweet and Sour Chicken – just added a ton of ketchup and sugar :( Overall, pizza is a great example of this phenomenon worldwide, like the cheeseburger crusts in the Middle East (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/pizza-hut-middle-east-crown-crust-carnival_n_1448413.html)!

  22. yitzelruiz April 28, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Reblogged this on dollcoronel.

  23. Yvette Ruiz April 28, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    DELICIOUS! I made this tonight and in addition to being super easy to make, it was so yummy. To save time, you may want to cut your chicken ahead of time, if you’re planning your meals out. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to try this recipe, don’t be! Make it – I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed. =)

  24. Debra May 2, 2014 at 6:08 am #

    HI, just wondering if I can use unrefined coconut oil in the recipe. It looks so good I can’t wait to try it!

    • Russ Crandall May 2, 2014 at 6:57 am #

      Hi Debra, I would not recommend virgin coconut oil for frying, it has such a low smoke point that you’ll end up burning it. I would use refined coconut oil, ghee, lard, or tallow.

      • Debra May 2, 2014 at 8:39 am #

        You learn something new every day! This is my first introduction to you and I gotta say, you seem pretty awesome! I’ll be eating up the info you have and sharing lots! Thanks!

  25. tooncesmom May 2, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    I made this dish. WONDERFUL! A keeper.

  26. Ayesha May 2, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    lovely dish. Gotta give this a shot! :)

  27. Helena Dreyer May 2, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    This looks great however I can’t do anything tomato :-( What’s a Good substitution?

    • Russ Crandall May 5, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

      Helena, I would just omit the tomato paste, and maybe cut the vinegar by half. Should still turn out pretty tasty!

  28. thebowandarcher May 3, 2014 at 5:14 am #

    Reblogged this on The Bow and Archer and commented:
    OMG Yum! Love Paleo food!

  29. newburyportbites May 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    I just posted the same! Too funny!!

  30. Naomi Hattaway May 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Looks delicious and I’m stoked about the possibility of creating “McNugget-like” tenders for my kiddos!

  31. Pam May 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    My family loved these! I didn’t try them because I am on GAPS. It was VERY hard to not try them! The coating fried up beautifully! Thank you for the work you are doing ! 😊

    • Pam May 6, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

      I actually just made these for the second time in less than a week, they were so enjoyed!

  32. Michelle May 7, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    I made this over the weekend. Added steamed broccoli and pineapple to it and took an amazing recipe and made it stupendous. This is one of my favorites so far.

  33. Charlene May 10, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    I made this for lunch but with pork ribs (cut up in nugget pieces). Amazing! Thanks for the recipe.

  34. Ute I May 10, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Russ – I made this tonight, with some egg-fried cauliflower rice and stir fried greens… it was amazing!!! Living in small town Germany after years in the food wonderlands of Paris, New York and London I am forever craving interesting combinations of flavour but finding it hard sourcing the ingredients. You constantly amaze me with your recipes, but tonight’s ‘take-away and a movie’ earned you special kudos from my husband as well.
    A big ‘Danke’ to you.

  35. S.Lindahl May 12, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    I’m a novice cook, but couldn’t wait to try it when I saw the picture. I echo the suggestions to double the sauce, but I can’t believe something that I cooked turned out so well! This dish is as tasty as any Chinese take-out without the MSG!

  36. Chris May 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    Made this one last night – granted MAYBE just a BIT much for a single, but oh so good. Thanks for posting, Im always looking for ways to get different flavors on/around chicken.

  37. pernilla200 June 2, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    Ooohhh that looks sooooo good!!

  38. Joyce June 9, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    I kept looking for why the oven was supposed to be set to 250 degrees, but must have missed that or maybe it was to keep the chicken warm but nothing was said in the recipe. But it’s 95 deg F right now here , and I’m glad I don’t need to bake this.

    • Russ Crandall June 9, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

      Hi Joyce, step two says to put the chicken in the oven to stay warm as you cook the chicken pieces in batches. Hope that helps!

  39. May September 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    long shot here but any way to make the breading work with an egg substitute of some sort?
    thanks so much!

  40. Tya December 2, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Looks great! Just trying to figure out why you said to preheat the oven though, I can’t seem to see any instruction to then use the oven? Please tell me I’ve not gone mad:-) can’t wait to try this! Cheers

    • Russ Crandall December 2, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

      Hi Tya, looks like you’ve gone mad! It’s in step #2, you want to put the finished pieces in the oven to stay warm while you cook the rest :)

  41. Melissa December 3, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    This looks wonderful! I was unable to find arrowroot starch (or arrowroot anything) at my local grocery. Do you know if tapioca starch would work as a sub? I’m still new to this whole paleo deal so I am still learning proper substitutes. TIA!

    • Russ Crandall December 3, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      Hi Melissa, in terms of frying, I have found that arrowroot and tapioca work as fair substitutes; potato starch is also similar but harder to work with because it tends to burn more easily. So feel free to use tapioca!

  42. Kasia December 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Made this this evening and it was a complete success. I added 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice, 1tbsp orange zest and a splash of sriracha to the sauce and it turned out great – gave Panda Express orange chicken a run for its money! Russ your recipes are always insanely good and you know you can always rely on them to deliver – thanks for another beaut!

  43. Lauren December 26, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    This sweet and sour sauce is so good! My family loves the idea of Asian take out, and we are always looking for a simple, clean at home method. I just made this and we DESTROYED IT! Nice job Russ. I find every recipe of yours to be outta this world tasty, wholesome, and pretty simple to recreate. Always looking forward to your next post.

  44. Oliver January 13, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks a lot for the recipe. This looks really taste! Could the eggs be substituted with something else though?

    • Russ Crandall January 13, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

      Oliver, just dust the chicken with starch and fry it without the egg, should still turn out pretty tasty.

      • Oliver January 15, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

        Will try. Thanks!

  45. carolann forman March 20, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Hi there, just been introduced to you and your recipes, made the sweet and sour chick but used prawns (shrimp as you guys say). It was very good thanks. Just a mention about virgin coconut oil…I use this in all my frying even at high heat and so far no burning. I use organic raw virgin coconut oil. Looking forward to trying all your other recipes

  46. Mary March 20, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    this is better than Chinese take out and no red dye or processed sugar. I did add some pineapple and onions to sauce. Amazing, thank you!!


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