Sweet & sour fish

Sweet & sour fish

This is an updated version of a recipe originally published on April 27, 2003. This was also my Feast Asia column on May 20, 2009.

As common as it may be, the curious thing about sweet and sour sauce is just how many versions there are. I remember my mother (who wasn’t a good cook at all) trying to replicate the restaurant version of my favorite dipping sauce for lumpiang shanghai by mixing together flour, soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. Perhaps, it was just her but cornstarch never seemed to figure among her ingredients for sweet and sour sauce. Naturally, with flour instead of cornstarch, the resulting sauce had a cloudy appearance.

When I became a teenager and started getting seriously interested in Chinese cooking, I learned about cornstarch and, after that, tapioca starch or what 1980s Canadian TV personality Stephen Yan liked to call Wonder Powder. I used either to make sweet and sour sauce and, instead of soy sauce, I added a little tomato paste (sometimes ketchup) for color. I used this formula happily for almost three decades and no one who tried it could find fault.

But as with most anything else, a cook never stops to find better and better recipes. I learned recently that the best sweet and sour sauce does not contain any starch. The thick texture is the result of boiling vinegar and palm sugar together until the mixture reaches the syrupy stage. Super fine strips of ginger are added for spice, aroma and bite. Below is a recipe for sweet and sour fish where the sauce is made using the described procedure.

Serves 4 to 6.


1 whole white, firm and fleshy fish, about 1.5 kg., scaled and gutted
salt and pepper
1 tbsp. of cornstarch or tapioca starch
3 c. of vegetable oil for deep frying

For the sweet and sour sauce:

1 c. of rice vinegar
1-1/2 to 2 c. of shaved palm sugar (or dark brown sugar)
½ tsp. of salt
1 tbsp. of very fine strips of ginger

For the garnish:

1 onion, finely sliced (or 12 stalks of onion leaves, cut into 2-inch lengths)
1 small carrot, julienned
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, julienned
1 tbsp. of sesame seed oil

Make the sweet and sour sauce. Place the vinegar and sugar in a small pan and set over medium heat. Cook without stirring until the sugar dissolves. Swirl the pan and boil over medium heat for 15 to 25 minutes or until syrupy. Add the salt and ginger during the last five minutes of cooking.

While the sauce cooks, prepare the fish. Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Cut three to four diagonal incisions about half an inch deep on both sides of the fish (what is referred to as “scoring”). Season the fish with salt and pepper, rubbing inside the cavity and incisions. Dust with cornstarch or tapioca starch.

When the oil is hot enough (it should start to emit some smoke), deep fry the fish over high heat until golden and a light crust forms on the outside. Flip the fish when the underside is done and fry the other side for even cooking and texture. Scoop out the fish and drain on paper towels. Transfer to a serving platter and scatter the prepared garnishes on top. Pour the sweet and sour sauce over the fish and vegetables.

Heat the sesame seed oil in a small pan until smoking. Pour over the fish and vegetables. Serve at once.

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    • says


      I am Celia. I want to learn other recipe and i found out that sweet and sour specially fish is great. I want to impress my husband and my children to eat this viant na ako ang magluto. Pls. send the recipes and how to cook it. Salamat.

    • Raquel Chan-Baker says

      I normally use snapper for sweet and sour recipe, but I found this really fresh gold bream at the market today. Will this fish work well with sweet and sour sauce? We are having guest tomorrow and he wants me to cook the fish with sweet and sour sauce.

    • says

      hi i found a pinoy cook i want to lear how to cook a sweet and our fish please send me a recipe pls. coz i want to sever this to my friends they want to eat sweet and sour fish and i dont know how to cook thank you i wish you can send me thank you.

    • jeri says

      hello ms. connie! i’ve been craving to eat fish in sweet and sour sauce since last year. 2 days ago i looked on your website(my favorite pinoy cook website) and tried this was my first time to cook this and i was hoping that my husband and parents-in-law would like it.while we were eating lunch, they kept saying “hmmmm lekker” (masarap) :)
      they ate it with potato and i ate it with rice. :D
      thanks a lot for sharing your recipe.

  1. Joanne says

    I just got married and I keep going to this website to find dishes to prepare for my husband. He’s an American but he loves Filipino dishes. Salamat sa pag-share ng iyong recipes!

    • eunice says

      hi hmmmp nkkamiss kainin yan lalo n pag ns ibangbansa ka, my husband love filipino food, so ittry ko yan…specially n katulad kong hindi marunong magluto, pls send mo nman saakin yun recipe, thanks godbless!!!

      • Mai says

        My Norwegian husband loves all Filipino dishes like adobo, pininyahang manok etc.. Tonight’s dinner will be sweet and sour fish. This is the second time I’m going to cook ‘escabeche’. Thanks for the recipe. It’s a great help for a housewife like me here in abroad.

        • beth says

          ive been always looking for the right ingredients when cooking though i already knew how to do it… the problem ,is when i start to leave outside the country people and friends starts asking me to cook filipino food for them.. esp. my boyfriends relatives… thank you for providing me such a nice site to visit from time to time..
          more power to all of you…

          • nicole says

            hello ms. connie…im an avid reader of ur blog…inaabangan ko talaga if may bagong labas kang receipe…and i already tried some of ur receipes and its very very good… btw, ask ko lang paano ba igarnish ang sweet and sour? i will cook sana dis in our upcoming fiesta dis weekend….hope u can help me ms connie… and more power to your blog pa coz u helped a lot of people…including me…:-))

          • joy says

            hello, i hope you can send me more recipes, miss na namin lutong pinoy dito sa kuwait.. God bless..

          • edna says

            hello po ma’am,im an avid reader of ur site,and it’s so helpful..i just want to know what is the good fish for this recipe..thanks a lot..

          • edna says

            hi again ma’am,may i copy you’re recipes for personal use..?please thanks po…c,’)

  2. maileen says

    Hello guys. Just wanna say thank you very much for all the recipes. Am very far away from Philippines but still i have the Filipino style and my husband is south African he`s a chef cook and am really trying hard to learn how to cook so the only way that can makes me easy in cooking is to look always in this site and follow all the ingredients and it makes me easy. i`ve been downloading some of the recipes copies and i tried cooking them and it really works. my husband say it taste nice and very good especially the ADOBO, one of his favorite Filipino food. well, i will not stop seeking some of ur recipes guys as it help me a lots and thank u so much…..

          • Adel from Algeria says

            Thanks a lot! I tried your recipe twice, the first time folowing step by step your instruction…success.. and my wife like it so much. In the second time, I have added slices of pineapple, but decreased the amount of sugar.. Great taste!

          • Dessyree says

            Thanks for posting this recipe. It’s a big hit with my family and friends. It’s a must have now everytime I have a party and always the first dish that the visitors finish..

  3. Lois says

    i tried your sweet and sour sauce recipe last night with a fried labahita(?) fish and it turned out really REALLY well. It was also my first time to try making the sauce without using ketchup and soy sauce. now i know what i was doing wrong. =)

    thanks, Miss Connie!

  4. Charles says

    Hello Ma’am, I was wondering if this would taste good when steaming the fish instead of frying? For instance, Lapu-Lapu?

  5. Miriam says

    Hi ma’am Connie :) I was going to try to cook this tonight for my ate’s 30th bday… Binili ko na po yung isda kagabi, and the fish I got was red-banded Tiger Fish. Nilinis po nila yung loob pero hindi po natanggalan ng scales. Kailangan ko po bang gawin ‘yon? Thank you so much!

      • says


        Na try ko po yung
        Fried lapu-lapu with pineapple sauce Recipe ninyo bago ko try itong version ng Sweet-N-Sour.

        While medyo fruity po yung flavor nuong
        Fried lapu-lapu with pineapple sauce Recipe
        pareho ding masarap ito, nalalsahan yung amoy nung Sesame Oil, yung suka at sugar.

        Gustong gusto po ng mga anak ko.
        Salamat po.

  6. Kris says

    Used the sauce recipe with prawns. So, so, so good! I shelled the prawns, leaving the last segment of the shell + tail. Split the prawns into two just until the shell. Dipped it in flour, then beaten egg then bread crumbs. Fried it butterfly style. They look like little birds when done :) Then topped the garnish and poured the sauce! My 3 yr old and french husband had a feast! 5 (over 5) stars! Salamat Ms. Connie! Will try next time with whole fish.

  7. Joy says

    :smile: Thank you very much sa mga recipe… malaking tulong sa skin ang mga recipe nyo online lalu na sa mga katulad ko na nasa ibang bansa… maraming salamat. God Bless..

  8. Lucy says

    connie, lol i cooked just now. kaya lang was trying to re read all your instructions di ko makita when to put the sugar kasi kaya pinaka huli ko na sya nilagay ok lang masarap parin! hahaha…:))

    salamat for posting..:))

  9. rose suarez says

    rose suarez…ng saudi arabia

    opo malaking tulong po para sa amin na nasa ibang bansa ang recipe po ninyo marami pong salamat….

  10. Connie says

    There is a notice just above the comment box that you missed perhaps? It says “Please read the terms of use before posting a comment.” The answer to your question is there. :)

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