The trouble with sweet-and-sour chicken is that the flavor is mostly sweet — too sweet, at that — and weirdly acidic. It never seems to deliver on the satisfying balance of gently sweet and teasingly sour that I hope for.
But a recipe in a British food magazine recently inspired me to create a better version. The recipe in BBC GoodFood magazine was for caramel chicken wings, though I wasn’t much interested in the wings themselves. It was the caramel-based sauce that intrigued me. Spiked with ginger, lime juice and fish sauce, it seemed just right for what I wanted.
The result is deliciously sweet, but equally tangy and savory. Be warned: This isn’t the gloopy red sweet-and-sour with pineapple and cherries you know from the takeout box. It is much better.
Sweet-and-tangy caramelized chicken thighs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips
Scallions, thinly sliced, to garnish
Fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook without stirring for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar has browned and thickened to caramel. Stir in the fish sauce, being careful of sputtering, then the soy sauce, ginger and lime juice. Return to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium, heat the oil. Add the chicken and cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes, or until cooked through. When the chicken has cooked, use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the chicken (but none of the liquid in the pan) into the caramel sauce. Toss to coat the chicken with the sauce, then transfer it to a serving platter. Top with scallions and cilantro.
Start to finish: 30 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories; 170 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 150 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 42 g protein; 1260 mg sodium.
(Recipe adapted from the November 2013 issue of BBC GoodFood magazine)