Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken has succulent pieces of chicken in a crispy batter and covered in a sweet and tangy sauce. A take-away favourite made easily in the slow cooker!
Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken (Hong-Kong style)
I often find that replicating the most famous dishes at home can be the most difficult – getting them to taste just as I remember from the restaurant or take-away! Sweet and sour chicken is one of those recipes that took me a while to perfect.
Authentic ‘Hong Kong Sweet and Sour Chicken’ requires that the chicken is first cut into pieces, then floured or battered before being fried and drizzled with the sauce. So the chicken must be moist, the batter crisp and the sauce just the right amount of fruity and tangy. My recipe for the slow cooker ticks all these boxes and makes a great addition to add to the Chinese fake-away repertoire!
- Chicken – Chicken breast cut into chunks and then battered. The batter also keeps the chicken moist during cooking.
- Batter – Make the batter using flour, water, egg, baking powder and seasoning. Use both wheat and corn flour in the batter as wheat flour creates a stable coating for the chicken whilst the corn flour keeps it light.
- Sauce – Use apple cider vinegar (for the tang!), ginger, garlic, brown sugar, tomato ketchup, pineapple and apple juice to make the base for the sauce (if you prefer you can use the same volume of just pineapple juice, I top-up with apple as it is a little less sweet and acidic). Season with some soy sauce and a pinch of mild chilli powder. Add pineapple chunks, onion, and peppers (capsicums) for crunch.
- Thickener – Corn flour is added to the sauce to create a syrupy texture to glaze the chicken pieces.
How to make it
Making the sauce for Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour chicken is simply a case of adding everything into the slow cooker – easy!
Preparing the chicken balls involves extra steps of battering and shallow frying them. This process only takes 20 minutes start to finish and it’s necessary to get an authentic flavour and texture.
Here are the steps in detail.
Make the sauce
- Place the onions and peppers into the slow cooker with minced garlic. Sprinkle over the ginger, chilli and corn flour then stir to coat the vegetables.
- Add the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, tomato ketchup and pineapple chunks.
- Pour in the pineapple and apple juice, stir and cook for 4-5 hours on low.
Make the batter
- In a bowl whisk together egg and water.
- Sieve in baking powder and flour gradually and whisk continuously to ensure a smooth batter.
- Season the batter with salt and pepper and set it aside.
Prepare the chicken
- Remove any sinew from the chicken breasts, cut them into pieces and season well.
- Dredge each piece of chicken in flour.
- Pour oil into a frying pan on the stove and heat on a medium to high heat for a few minutes (see recipe notes for testing the oil is hot).
- When the oil is hot enough, dip the chicken pieces in the batter mixture and place them into the oil slowly to avoid being splashed with hot oil.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes on both sides. Once crisp and golden remove the chicken pieces.
- Place the cooked chicken pieces on a wire rack over a baking tray to allow any oil to drip away. Add them to the slow cooker toward the end of cooking the sauce or serve them crisp with the sauce poured over.
Serve crockpot sweet and sour chicken with boiled or fried rice and a spring onion garnish. The sauce and the chicken are both so flavoursome that you really don’t need anything more extravagant!
If you are looking to add some sides to the dish then crunchy prawn crackers or vegetable spring rolls (just as you would have from the take-away) make great additions.
It’s really easy to add extra ingredients to the sauce to create some variety in the dish. Baby corn on the cob, mange tout and bamboo shoots all add extra sweetness and texture.
Another great thing about this recipe is the fact that the sauce and the chicken are prepared separately meaning you can also use both in other dishes! Here are some ideas…..
Sweet and sour sauce also goes beautifully with pork. Try pouring some sauce over freshly cooked pork escalopes and serve with rice or potatoes and fresh vegetables.
Chicken Burger or Sharing Platter
Battered chicken pieces taste delicious on their own and are great as part of a sharing platter – they go particularly well with a BBQ sauce dip. Additionally, if you cut the chicken into larger flatter pieces they make great fillings for an indulgent chicken burger!
Lower Fat Option
Leave the batter off the chicken and serve it plain – a good idea if you are looking for a lower fat alternative. Simply add chopped pieces of chicken breast or thigh to the slow cooker at the start of cooking and they will gently cook in the sauce.
Bear in mind that the fat content of breast meat is lower so will need less cooking time (usually around 3-4 hours is sufficient depending on the type of slow cooker). Check the meat is thoroughly cooked (white meat with clear juices) before serving.
Tips to make Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Keep the peppers and onions firm by cutting them into larger chunks before cooking. For extra crunch add them to the slow cooker half way through the cooking time instead of at the start.
- There are a few stages in this recipe so to make things easier it’s best to work in a particular order. Make the sauce first and whilst it’s cooking prepare the chicken around an hour before serving.
- Make sure the the chicken pieces are well coated in the flour and fully covered in the batter mixture before frying. The batter creates a shell for the chicken which as well as being crunchy and delicious, also works to keep the chicken moist and juicy.
Sweet and sour chicken can be served with the chicken lightly stir-fried and served in the sauce or Hong Kong style which means the chicken is first dredged in batter and fried.
To thicken sweet and sour sauce in the slow cooker turn the temperature up to high and lift and tilt the lid to leave a small gap. Cook for a further 30 minutes which will allow moisture to evaporate. Alternatively, add a tablespoon of cornflour to a bowl then gradually ladle in some of the sauce stirring continuously to make a smooth slurry. Add this to the sauce, stir through and cook for a further 15 minutes on high.
Firstly, using the slow cooker makes it very easy to make the sauce – just put everything in the pot! Secondly, because the chicken and sauce are made separately in this recipe you can prepare them at different points during the day when it’s convenient. So if you want to cook the chicken first they can be cooled and refrigerated until needed.
Yes, although it’s best to store the sauce and the chicken separately. Put the chicken pieces and the sauce into individual airtight containers and then they can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat the sauce in the microwave until hot, and cook the chicken pieces on a baking sheet in the oven for 10-15 minutes from cold, or 20-25 minutes from frozen.
Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken
Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 435 g (15.34 oz) pineapple chunks in juice 1 can, both the fruit and the juice will be used
- 150 ml (5.07 floz) apple juice or pineapple juice if preferred
- 1 green pepper cut into 3cm pieces
- 1 red pepper cut into 3cm pieces
- ½ white onion
- 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and minced
- 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2½ tbsp cornflour
- ½ mild chilli powder
- 750 g (1.65 lb) chicken breast
- 400 ml (13.5 floz) vegetable oil
- 100 g (0.8 cups) plain flour
- 35 g corn flour
- 100 ml (3.5 floz) water cool
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 tsp salt finely ground
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp black pepper finely ground
Sweet and Sour sauce
- Peel the onion and core the peppers and cut into 3cm squares. Place these into the slow cooker along with the minced garlic.
- Add the ginger, cornflour and chilli and stir well to coat the vegetables.
- Add the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, tomato ketchup, pineapple chunks and juice from the can and then top up with the apple juice. Mix everything together.
- Cook on low for 4-5 hours, stirring half way through cooking.
Make the batter
- In a large mixing bowl beat the egg and water together. Then gradually sieve in the plain flour, corn flour and baking powder while whisking continuously to avoid any lumps.
- Once the flour is mixed in, stir in 1 tsp of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Set the batter aside whilst the chicken is prepared.
Prepare the chicken
- Remove any sinew from the chicken and cut each breast into chunks of 3-4cm square (approximately 6-8 chunks per chicken breast depending on their size).
- In a bowl add garlic powder, 1 tsp of the salt and a pinch of black pepper and mix. Now put the chicken pieces in the bowl and coat evenly with the seasoning.
- In a separate bowl put in 2 tablespoons of flour, take each piece of seasoned chicken and dredge in the flour making sure all sides are covered. The flour helps the batter to stick to the chicken.
Cook the chicken
- Place a large frying pan over a medium to high heat then pour in the oil to a depth of around 1 to 2 cm (depending on the size of the pan not all of the 400ml of oil may be required). After 1 – 2 minutes test the oil is hot enough to begin cooking by dropping in a little of the batter (see recipe notes).
- Now dip each piece of the chicken in the batter ensuring each piece is submerged entirely – I find it easiest to do this using cooking tongs. Transfer the pieces to the frying pan carefully placing them into the oil as to avoid any of the hot oil splashing. Leave space between them so they don't stick together whilst cooking. Fry for around 3-4 minutes on each side.
- Test the chicken is cooked through by taking one of the fattest pieces and cutting in half, the chicken should be white with clear juices. The batter should be crisp and golden.
- Place the cooked chicken pieces on a wire rack over a tray for a few minutes to allow any oil to drip away. The chicken pieces can be placed into the sauce in the slow cooker for the final 30 minute of cooking (to entirely soak them in the sauce!). Otherwise enjoy them crisp and pour the sauce over when serving.