Yes, it’s a new spin on a Chinese favorite. This sticky sweet sour chicken with pecans and peas has a lot more going than usual.
The secret is to make your own sweet and sour sauce without starch. That way the sauce forms a light caramelized crust that coats every piece of chicken and pecan.
But how is it possible for the sweet sour sauce to thicken without adding starch? By reduction. When you gently boil the sauce until it turns into a syrup, you get a thick sweet and sour sauce that won’t make the breading of the chicken strips turn soggy before the meal is over. This sweet and sour sauce is a little spicy with the addition of one piece of chili which I finely sliced. The chili is optional.
Why pecans and peas? Because we had pecans and because nuts add another dimension of crispiness to the dish. The peas? To be honest, I added them for color. If you believe in the saying that you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth, well, without the peas, the chicken and pecans looked like a homogenous mass that the eyes might not find too sexy.
I’m completely okay without the peas but, hey, this is a food blog and photogenic food is the peg. If I have to add color to the dish, why not do it with panache? I absolutely love sweet peas but, if you’re not a fan, diced bell pepper will do too. Just don’t add anything that you won’t eat. Garnishing a dish just for the sake of decoration is not the philosophy of a cook with half a brain.
Sticky Sweet Sour Chicken With Pecans and Peas
For the fried chicken fillets
- 4 to 6 chicken thigh fillets cut into half inch strips
- 1/4 teaspoon grated garlic
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
For the sweet and sour sauce
Marinate the chicken
Place the chicken strips in a bowl. Add the garlic, soy sauce and pepper. Mix well.
Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Make the sweet and sour sauce
While the chicken marinates, make the sauce. Place the sugar in a small, thick-bottomed pan (sugar will burn if the bottom of the pan is too thin).
Pour in the rice vinegar. Stir in the ginger, chili (if using) and salt.
Set the pan over high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Adjust the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce, uncovered, until reduced and syrupy. Depending on your stove and pan, this takes anywhere from 10 to 12 minutes. Tip: Don't wait until the sauce is too thick. It thickens as it cools. Once the sauce has thickened and lightly coats a spoon, turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove.
Fry the chicken
In a wok or frying pan, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
Dump the starch in a large mixing bowl and pour in a three tablespoons of icy water to make a pourable paste. If the mixture is to thick and lumpy, add more water, a tablespoon at a time. The paste should be thick enough to coat the chicken strips but not so thick that the chicken coating is thicker than the chicken.
Add the chicken to the starch solution and mix.
When you see fine wisps of smoke hovering on the surface of the oil, it's time to start frying. Drop in the starch coated chicken strips, one at a time. Fry the chicken in batches to make sure that the pan is not overcrowded. It takes only about four to five minutes for each batch to cook.
Drain the chicken on a rack.
Complete the dish
Pour off the oil from the wok leaving only a tablespoonful.
Reheat the oil and saute the sliced shallots just until translucent.
Add the peas and pecans to the shallots and toss to heat through.
Dump the chicken back into the pan and toss.
Turn off the heat. Pour in the sweet and sour sauce. Toss to coat every solid ingredient.
Serve the sticky sweet sour chicken with pecans and peas immediately.