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Sweet 'n' sour chicken for adults

Sweet-and-sour chicken is one of those kid-friendly meals that one can easily lose the taste for as an adult. You order it with fond memories in your favorite Chinese restaurant, and then the candy-coated pieces of chicken arrive, colored a shocking pink.

Not only does today's recipe for Speedy Sweet-and-Sour Chicken take just 20 minutes to prepare, but we've updated it for today's tastes by using unsweetened pineapple juice, a splash of vinegar and just a hint of brown sugar. As an added bonus, this dish is much lighter in fat than the fried restaurant version.The only trick is slicing the carrots. We usually call for already-peeled baby carrots in Desperation recipes, but while testing this dish, we found that these carrots were too thick to tenderize quickly enough. Hold your knife at about a 45-degree angle as you slice through the carrots. This technique will produce slices that have quill-shaped points and more surface area - which will allow the slices to cook quickly in the skillet. If you're really in a panic, you can just leave the carrots out - but they do add to the beauty and nutritional balance of the meal.

Menu:

Speedy Sweet-and-Sour Chicken

Whole-wheat rolls

Fortune cookies (store-bought)

SPEEDY SWEET-AND-SOUR CHICKEN

1 cup 20-minute rice

4 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves, fresh or frozen (about 11/3 pounds total)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, such as peanut

3 large carrots (for 1 cup sliced)

1 large onion (for 1 cup of strips)

1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

1 teaspoon bottled chopped ginger

1 large green bell pepper (for 11/2 cups of strips)

1 can (151/4 ounces) pineapple chunks packed in juice

2 tablespoons Asian rice-wine vinegar or white vinegar

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar or to taste

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Place 2 cups of unsalted water in a covered 2-quart (or larger) saucepan over high heat, and begin bringing it to a boil (3 minutes). Measure out the rice and set it aside. Proceed with steps 2 and 3. When the water boils, add the rice, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and steam for 17 minutes.

If the chicken is frozen, place it on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 3 minutes, uncovered, to begin de-frost-ing.

While chicken is microwaving, begin heating the oil on medium heat in an extra-deep, nonstick skillet. Peel the carrots and cut them at an angle into 1/2-inch-thick slices. (It should be time to add the rice to the boiling water now.) Add the carrots to the skillet and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir from time to time. Peel the onion, cut it in half and cut each half into 1/2-inch-wide crescent-shaped slices, adding them to the skillet as you slice. Stir.

Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch strips through the width, adding the strips to the skillet as each breast half is sliced. Add the garlic and ginger and stir well. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the center and is just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir from time to time.

While the chicken cooks, core the green pepper and cut it into 1/2-inch strips, adding them to the pan as you cut. Drain the pineapple juice from the can into a 1-cup or larger measure, reserving the pineapple chunks. Add enough water to the juice to make 1 cup of liquid. Add the juice mixture to the skillet, and raise the heat to high (if necessary) to bring it to a boil. Add the vinegar, soy sauce and brown sugar. Stir well to mix in the seasonings.

Mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water in a small container that has a lid. Shake well until the lumps disappear. Add the cornstarch mixture to the skillet a little at a time, stirring constantly. Stir roughly half of the reserved pineapple chunks into the skillet, saving the rest for another use. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce reaches the desired thickness. Remove the pan from the heat. Serve at once over a bed of steamed rice. Pass additional soy sauce at the table if desired. Serves 4.

- Approximate values Per serving (using Nutritionist IV software): 347 calories (12 percent from fat), 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 73 mg cholesterol, 30 g protein, 47 g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, 240 mg sodium.

- Cook's notes: Garlic-ginger stir-fry seasoning can be substituted for the chopped ginger and minced garlic - use 2 teaspoons or to personal taste. Also note that we tested this recipe with long-grain rice. Converted rice may take an addi-tional 2 to 3 minutes to tenderize.