Sweet and Sour Chicken (Whole30, Paleo)
This sweet and sour chicken is so crispy and perfectly sweet and sour, but it’s Whole30, paleo, and refined sugar free! It’s a lightened up take on the Chinese classic that’s totally takeout-worthy yet unbelievably easy, right down to the sweet and sour sauce made with dates and pineapple juice.
When you’re in “screw it” mode at the Chinese buffet, sweet and sour chicken is the siren song of chafing dishes.
Battered, fried, and coated in a super sweet yet tangy sauce. A bit (or a lot?) of food coloring in there for good measure. Ir-re-sis-ti-ble. There’s not much competition along the row of steaming dishes when it comes to sweet and sour chicken: even if you prefer, say, sesame or kung pao chicken, sweet and sour is the crispiest, the richest, the most luxe. Am I right?
So making a healthier sweet and sour chicken recipe with a seriously worthy sweet and sour sauce is a major challenge. A deserving recipe has to be:
- Crispy on the outside
- Moist and tender on the inside
- Sweet enough, but not too sweet
- Sour enough, but not too sour
I’m not at all ashamed to say that my first version sucked. I had high hopes, took photos, ate a bite, and tried to convince myself to name the dish something else so I could still post it.
Sure, the recipe wasn’t bad; it was actually a good dinner! But it wasn’t something I’d call a true Whole30 sweet and sour chicken recipe. Nah, more like… pineapple chicken stir fry? Good, but not “I could eat this for the next six meals” good.
Which is kind of exactly what my husband said after eating this version. In fact, it’s caused problems! When we have this sweet and sour chicken in the fridge, he doesn’t want to roll with my new recipes or order takeout when I’m too tired to cook.
Well, that’s not exactly true. He doesn’t care what I do, so long as I leave him and his bowl of leftover sweet and sour chicken out of it.
🫑 Why this recipe is so good
- The chicken is actually crispy, thanks to an easy coating using arrowroot powder and eggs. Simple, too!
- The onions and peppers round this dish out with plenty of veggies, so you can serve it over cauliflower rice and call it a night.
- The sweet and sour sauce is oh so good and made easily in the blender with all whole-food ingredients.
- It’s Whole30 compliant and paleo, too!
💡 Recipe Variations
- Leave out any element you don’t love, whether that’s the peppers or onion. The pineapple is sooo good here, though (So keep it!).
- Try substituting shrimp for the chicken. Follow the recipe the same as you would for the chicken, but you’ll need to cook the shrimp a lot less, only about 2 minutes.
- If you eat soy, feel free to swap out the coconut aminos for soy sauce in the sauce. Just leave out the salt as well, if you use soy sauce. If you’re on a Whole30, do not use soy sauce!
- I really love to use Dole Pineapple Chunks in 100% Pineapple Juice since they’re easy to keep on hand and perfectly little nuggets of natural sweetness. You can, however, use fresh pineapple, but you will need to sauté it much longer to soften. Just roll with the Dole!
👩🏼🍳 Chef’s Tips
- I like to sauté the peppers and onions pretty well so they’re not super raw and crunchy-tasting, but I’m not a huge fan of bell peppers to start with. You can sauté them just a couple minutes or a bit longer, depending on your preference.
- Shake up your chicken in batches; about 2 batches will cover everything. This will prevent clumpy chicken pieces, and you can shake up the second batch while the first batch is frying. Just make sure you keep a close eye on the chicken frying!
- Cut your chicken into smaller pieces than you think would be “bite-sized.” You want pieces about 3/4-1″ big, not big chunks. The coating will add some volume here.
🤔 Can I use cassava flour instead of arrowroot powder?
Absolutely! Cassava flour is a little harder to find, so I don’t use it in as many of my recipes. It is, however, my favorite grain-free flour or starch, and it works very well in this recipe.
Other Asian-Inspired Recipes You’ll Love
- Egg Roll in a Bowl
- Cauliflower Fried Rice with Chicken (Whole30 and Paleo Friendly)
- Healthy Lettuce Wraps
- Egg Roll in a Bowl Meal Prep (Whole30, Paleo, Keto)
- Szechuan Chicken
- Paleo Sesame Chicken
- Paleo Chinese Chicken Salad (Whole30)
- Whole30 Bang Bang Shrimp
- Breakfast Egg Roll in a Bowl (Whole30, Paleo)
Sweet and Sour Chicken (Whole30, Paleo)
For the Sweet and Sour Sauce
- ½ cup 100% pineapple juice from can of pineapple chunks
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
- 2 Medjool dates pitted; or 3 Deglet Noor dates, pitted
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup Whole30 ketchup store-bought or make your own
- 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- salt to taste
For the Chicken
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized chunks no larger than 1-inch wide
- salt to taste
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups arrowroot powder plus more as needed, see Notes
- 2-4 tablespoons refined coconut oil or avocado oil, for frying
For the Veggies
- 1 tablespoon refined coconut oil or avocado oil
- 1 cup pineapple chunks drained, see Notes
- 1 medium red bell pepper seeds removed, sliced into ½-inch wide strips
- 1 medium green bell pepper seeds removed, sliced into ½-inch wide strips
- half of one medium yellow onion thinly sliced, approximately ½ to ¾ cup
Suggested Garnishes (All Optional)
- steamed cauliflower rice
- white sesame seeds
- thinly sliced green onions green parts only
- Cutting board
- Medium bowl
- large food-safe sealable plastic bag or container with lid
- 2 Large plates
- Large skillet
- Paper towels
- Wire cooling rack optional
- internal meat thermometer
- Silicone spatula
For the Sweet and Sour Sauce
- Add pineapple juice, arrowroot powder, dates, apple cider vinegar, ketchup, coconut aminos, garlic, and salt to blender. Blend until mixture is completely smooth. Taste and adjust ingredients as needed to achieve desired flavor, blending again to incorporate any added ingredients. Set prepared sweet and sour sauce aside until ready to use.
For the Chicken
- Place chunks of chicken on cutting board in one even layer if possible. Sprinkle salt over chicken, then flip chicken over and sprinkle salt on other side. Set aside.
- Crack 2 large eggs directly into medium bowl. Whisk eggs together until fully combined. Mixture should be pale in color and no longer streaky. Set aside.
- Add 1 ½ cups arrowroot powder to sealable bag or container with lid. Break up any clumps of powder as needed.
- Place approximately 1 pound of chicken (half of total chicken chunks) in bag or container with arrowroot powder. Seal bag or secure lid on container, then shake until chicken chunks are coated with arrowroot powder.
- Remove chicken chunks from powder, making sure to shake any excess powder back into bag or container. Place chicken directly into egg mixture and use hands or tongs to flip chicken, coating all sides with egg. Work in batches as needed depending on size of bowl.
- Remove chicken chunks from egg mixture, making sure to allow any excess egg wash drip back into bowl. Return chicken to arrowroot powder. Seal bag or secure lid and shake again until chicken is coated in second layer of arrowroot powder. Break up any clumps of powder as needed.
- Remove chicken chunks from powder, shaking any excess powder back into bag or container. Transfer "breaded" chicken to large plate and set aside. Repeat process with remaining 1 pound of chicken, adding more arrowroot powder to bag or container as needed.
- Once all chicken has been breaded, heat large skillet over medium heat. When pan is warm, add 2 tablespoons coconut oil to skillet. Continue heating skillet, swirling pan occasionally to coat bottom in oil, until oil is just hot and shimmery. While oil warms up, cover second large plate with paper towels for cooked chicken. Place wire cooling rack over lined plate for crispier chicken, if desired.
- Divide chicken into 2 to 3 batches. When oil is ready, place first batch of chicken in skillet in one even layer, being careful not to overcrowd pan. Sear chicken 1 to 2 minutes or until breading on bottom is set and lightly browned. Flip chicken and cook another 2 to 4 minutes or until breading is lightly golden-browned and chicken is almost completely cooked through. Internal meat thermometer inserted into chicken should read 160° to 162° Fahrenheit.
- Transfer chicken from skillet to plate lined with paper towels (or to wire cooling rack). Repeat pan-frying process with remaining batches of chicken. Add more oil to skillet between each batch as needed, making sure to let oil heat up completely before adding chicken.
For the Veggies
- Remove skillet from heat and use paper towels to carefully wipe out skillet. Return skillet to stovetop and warm over medium heat. When skillet is warm, add refined coconut oil and swirl pan to coat. Continue warming skillet until oil is just hot and shimmery.
- When oil is ready, add drained pineapple chunks, sliced peppers, and sliced onion to skillet. Sauté ingredients, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and peppers begin to soften, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
- Pour prepared sweet and sour sauce into skillet. Stir to coat pineapple, peppers, and onions in sauce and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until sauce has thickened slightly and begins to bubble.
- Return all pan-fried chicken to skillet. Gently fold in chicken until thoroughly coated in sauce, then simmer entire mixture until chicken is warmed through.
- If desired, scoop preferred amount(s) of steamed cauliflower rice into serving bowl(s). Top each scoop of steamed cauliflower rice with preferred amount(s) of sweet and sour chicken mixture. Garnish with white sesame seeds and slices of green onions, and serve warm.
- Pineapple Chunks & Juice: When you drain the can of pineapple chunks, do NOT discard the juice! You’ll need to use that for the juice in the sweet & sour sauce. Make sure that you’re using pineapple in 100% pineapple juice, with no added sweeteners or other ingredients that won’t be compatible with Whole30.
- Sweet & Sour Sauce: For a sweeter sauce, throw another date in the blender. For a tangier flavor with a little more sour, add just a little more pineapple juice. The arrowroot powder won’t affect the flavor but it does affect the consistency, so keep that in mind before you adjust it too much. And make sure you use a ketchup and coconut aminos that you really love the flavors of – they’ll have an impact on your sauce overall!
- Arrowroot Powder: If you have cassava flour on hand, try that for the breading! It’s a little harder to find but it’s my favorite grain-free flour. It’s also not prone to gelling like arrowroot is sometimes.
- Coconut Aminos: If you eat soy, feel free to swap out the coconut aminos for soy sauce in the sauce. Just leave out the salt as well, if you use soy sauce. If you’re on a Whole30 round, do not use soy sauce!
- Breading the Chicken: If you’re having trouble getting the arrowroot-egg-arrowroot layers to stick, try this. After shaking the chicken in the arrowroot the first time, transfer it to a cutting board or plate and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes. After that, dip the chicken in the egg wash, then back to the arrowroot powder and proceed with the recipe as written. Also, for best results, make sure to shake off as much excess arrowroot powder as possible during the “breading” process – both times.
- Pan-Frying the Chicken: Arrowroot powder behaves differently than traditional flour breadings, so frying the chicken may take some trial and error. If your arrowroot breading is burning, you may have cooked it for too long, or your oil/skillet is too hot. Reduce the heat under your skillet to medium-low and give it a few minutes to cool off a little before trying again. I also recommend testing the heat with just one piece of breaded chicken to start – that way, if it’s wrong, you’re not wasting half of your meal!
Number of total servings shown is approximate. Actual number of servings will depend on your preferred portion sizes.
Nutritional values shown are general guidelines and reflect information for 1 serving using the ingredients listed, not including any optional ingredients. Actual macros may vary slightly depending on specific brands and types of ingredients used.
To determine the weight of one serving, prepare the recipe as instructed. Weigh the finished recipe, then divide the weight of the finished recipe (not including the weight of the container the food is in) by the desired number of servings. Result will be the weight of one serving.
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