Sweet and Sour Fish

By: MeganPosted: 04/05/2024 Updated: 03/05/2024
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Total 30 minutes
Delicious Chinese sweet and sour fish is made with delicate fried fish, bell peppers, and pineapples and coated in a perfectly balanced sweet and sour sauce.
Sweet and Sour Fish
A pair of chopsticks lifting up a piece of sweet and sour fish.

This sweet and sour fish recipe is made with delicate white fish like cod or sea bass fried until crispy, stir-fried with aromatic bell peppers and pineapples, and coated with a thick, glossy sweet, sour sauce. The sweet and sour sauce has the perfect balance of sweet which derives from pineapple juice and sugar and sour which comes from the rice vinegar.

The best part about this recipe for sweet and sour fish is that it can be made in under 30 minutes for the ideal flavorful weekday meal. This Chinese sweet-and-sour fish pairs deliciously with a bowl of egg-fried rice and garlic green beans for a well-balanced and delicious meal!

What is Sweet and Sour Fish?

Sweet and sour fish is a popular Chinese dish that is typically served as a whole fish in China. The dish originated in Shandong Province, China during the Manchus Dynasty. Some say that the sweet and sour sauce originated from Hunan, China.

Sweet and sour fish is traditionally served on Chinese New Year since fish represents wealth and abundance. The Chinese American version (like this recipe) is made with fruit juice and ketchup giving the sauce a signature red color and Westernized flavor.

A plate of sweet and sour fish surrounded by table settings.

Ingredients

You can find all of the following ingredients for sweet and sour fish at your local grocery market. I have linked everything that I used below.

Fish

  • Fish: this recipe for sweet and sour fish can be made with various types of fish such as cod, bass, tilapia, red snapper, or halibut. These all have a mild flavor and firm flesh which makes them ideal for frying.
  • Sesame oil: sesame oil adds a nutty flavor while also coating the fish to tenderize it and keep the fish moist.
  • Garlic Powder: garlic powder adds seasoning to the stir-fry fish.
  • Salt and white pepper: salt and white pepper to season the fish
  • All-purpose flour and cornstarch: the combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch is ideal for frying because it yields the perfect balance of a light and crispy coating.
  • Baking powder: baking powder increases browning, and adds air pockets that make the fried fish crispier.
  • Vegetable Oil: vegetable oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point which makes it ideal for frying.
All the ingredients for seasoning and frying fish organized and labeled in bowl.s

Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • Cornstarch and water: cornstarch and water combined create a slurry that thickens the sauce for the signature thick glossy sweet and sour sheen.
  • Pineapple Juice: pineapple juice adds a sweet, tart element that brightens up the thick heavy fried flavors.
  • Ketchup: ketchup adds a tangy, umami flavor giving the signature red sweet and sour sauce color.
  • Brown Sugar: brown sugar is another “sweet” element in the sweet and sour fish.
  • Rice Vinegar: rice vinegar is the “sour” element in the dish. Rice vinegar is softer, slightly sweeter than distilled white vinegar which yields a more nuanced “sour” flavor.
  • Salt: salt balances out and seasons the sweet and sour sauce.
All the ingredients for a sweet and sour sauce organized.

Stir fry

  • Ginger and Garlic: ginger and garlic are the main aromatic elements of the stir fry that bring out the other flavors of the vegetables.
  • Red Onion: red onion adds a sharp aromatic onion flavor to the stir-fried fish.
  • Red and Green Bell Pepper: red and green bell pepper adds color, texture, and a vegetable component to the Chinese sweet and sour fish.
  • Pineapple: pineapple is not traditional, but adds a nice refreshing bite that lightens up the heavy fried flavors.
All the stir fry ingredients for sweet and sour fish organized and labeled.

Substitutions and Additions

There are so many different versions of sweet and sour fish recipes out there. You can customize this recipe with the following substitutions and additions.

Substitutions

  • Fish: instead of a classic white fish, you can alternatively use salmon as well.
  • Cake Flour: cake flour also makes a good breading base for fried fish.
  • All-purpose flour or Cornstarch: if you only have one or the other, you can alternatively use just one.
  • Granulated Sugar: instead of brown sugar, granulated sugar works too.
  • Vinegar: alternative vinegar for substitutions include, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and distilled white vinegar. This will result in a more “sour” sweet and sour fish.

Additions

  • Soy sauce: soy sauce adds another layer of umami saltiness to the sweet and sour sauce.
  • Shaoxing wine: adding a splash of Shaoxing wine in the sauce or the fish marinade will add another layer of depth.
  • Chili: for a spicy kick you can add sliced chili peppers, chili flakes, or hot sauce to the sauce.
  • Vegetables: you can also add carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, etc. to the stir fry for a more well-rounded meal.

How to Make Sweet and Sour Fish

Here are the easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions on how to make sweet and sour fish. I recommend having all the ingredients prepped before you begin cooking.

Prep

  1. Marinate the fish. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel. In a mixing bowl, add the cubed fish, sesame oil, garlic powder, salt and white pepper. Mix until evenly combined and set aside.
Chunks of fish marinating in a large glass bowl.
  1. Make the sweet and sour sauce. In a mixing bowl, add the water and cornstarch and mix until combined. Then add in the pineapple juice, ketchup, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and salt. Mix until combined. Then set aside.
Sweet and sour sauce mixed together in a glass bowl.

Fry the Fish

  1. Heat the oil. In a deep pan or wok, heat enough oil to cover about 1/2 to 1 inch of the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches 375°F (190°C) it is ready.
  2. Mix the coating ingredients and coat the fish. In a small bowl, add the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Then coat the fish in the mixture. Carefully shake off any excess.
Fish coated for deep frying sitting on a wire rack.
  1. Fry the fish. When the oil is ready, fry the fish in batches until they are golden brown about 2-3 minutes on each side. Make sure to keep the oil between 350°F-375°F. Then using a spider strainer transfer the fish onto a wire rack placed over a lined baking sheet to drain any excess oil.

Stir Fry

  1. Cook the aromatics. In a wok or large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until hot. Then add the ginger, garlic, and onions and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.
Aromatics being cooked in a large wok.
  1. Add the bell peppers and pineapple. Next, add the bell peppers and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the pineapple and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
Pineapples and vegetables cooked and tossed in a wok.
  1. Add the sauce. Then add the sauce and toss to combine. Cook the sauce until it begins to simmer and thicken for about 1-2 minutes.
Stir fried pineapple and peppers tossed with a sweet and sour sauce in a wok.
  1. Serve. Pour the sauce over the fried fish, garnish with sesame seeds, and serve the sweet and sour fish with white rice and enjoy!

Tips for the Best Sweet and Sour Fish

  • Pat the fish dry. Make sure to pat the fish dry thoroughly to ensure your fried fish gets really crispy.
  • Fry at the right temperature: use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil. Make sure to keep the oil around 350-375°F (175-190°C). Frying at the right temperature ensures the fish cooks evenly without absorbing too much oil.
  • Fry in batches: make sure to fry the fish in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan which can cause the oil to drop dramatically and result in soggy fish.
  • Drain excess oil: make sure to place the fried fish on a wire rack immediately after to drain off any excess oil to maintain the crispiness.
  • Balance the sweet and sour sauce to taste: Ultimately, this is your sweet and sour fish recipe. Taste the sauce and adjust the levels of sweet and sour based on your preferences.

Storage Instructions

For best results, this Chinese sweet and sour fish stir fry should be served immediately when cooked. This will ensure the crispiness of the fish. You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Reheat: you can either saute on a skillet until warm or microwave-covered until warm.

Frequently Asked Q’s and A’s

What kind of fish is best for sweet and sour fish?

Firm fleshed white fish with a mild flavor like cod, bass, halibut, tilapia, or red snapper are commonly used for sweet and sour fish. Any of these varieties will hold up to frying and absorb the flavors beautifully.

Can I use frozen fish for sweet and sour fish?

Yes! You can use frozen fish for this sweet-and-sour fish recipe. Make sure to thaw the fish and pat it completely dry before coating it in batter and frying.

Can I make sweet and sour sauce ahead of time?

Yes, you can make the sweet and sour sauce in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to one week. When ready to eat, reheat the sauce in a saucepan and pour it over the freshly fried fish.

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A plate of sweet and sour fish garnished with sesame seeds.

Sweet and Sour Fish

Rate this recipe
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Delicious Chinese sweet and sour fish is made with delicate fried fish, bell peppers, and pineapples and coated in a perfectly balanced sweet and sour sauce.
Servings: 2 servings
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Fish

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Stir fry

  • 1 inch knob ginger sliced into thin strips
  • 4 cloves garlic sliced
  • ¼ red onion cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ red bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ green bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup pineapple cut into 1 inch chunks
  • Sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

Prep

  • Marinate the fish. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel. In a mixing bowl, add the cubed fish, sesame oil, garlic powder, salt and white pepper. Mix until evenly combined and set aside.
  • Make the sweet and sour sauce. In a mixing bowl, add the water and cornstarch and mix until combined. Then add in the pineapple juice, ketchup, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and salt. Mix until combined. Then set aside.

Fry the Fish

  • Heat the oil. In a deep pan or wok, heat enough oil to cover about 1/2 to 1 inch of the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches 375°F (190°C) it is ready.
  • Mix the coating ingredients and coat the fish. In a small bowl, add the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Then coat the fish in the mixture. Carefully shake off any excess.
  • Fry the fish. When the oil is ready, fry the fish in batches until they are golden brown about 2-3 minutes on each side. Make sure to keep the oil between 350°F-375°F. Then using a spider strainer or slotted spoon transfer the fish onto a wire rack placed over a lined baking sheet to drain any excess oil.

Stir Fry

  • Cook the aromatics. In a wok or large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until hot. Then add the ginger, garlic, and onions and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add the bell peppers and pineapple. Next add the bell peppers and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the pineapple and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
  • Add the sauce. Then add the sauce and toss to combine. Cook the sauce until it begins to simmer and thicken for about 1-2 minutes.
  • Serve. Pour the sauce over the fried fish, garnish with sesame seeds, and serve with white rice and enjoy!

Notes

  • Pat the fish dry. Make sure to pat the fish dry thoroughly to ensure your fried fish gets really crispy.
  • Fry at the right temperature: use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil. Make sure to keep the oil around 350-375°F (175-190°C). Frying at the right temperature ensures the fish cooks evenly without absorbing too much oil.
  • Fry in batches: make sure to fry the fish in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan which can cause the oil to drop dramatically and resulting in soggy fish.
  • Drain excess oil: make sure to place the fried fish on a wire rack immediately after to drain off any excess oil to maintain the crispiness.
  • Balance the sweet and sour sauce to taste: Ultimately, this is your sweet and sour fish recipe. Taste the sauce and adjust the levels of sweet and sour based on your preferences.

Nutrition:

Calories: 544kcal | Carbohydrates: 71g | Protein: 49g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 113mg | Sodium: 1714mg | Potassium: 1039mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 28g | Vitamin A: 1094IU | Vitamin C: 110mg | Calcium: 135mg | Iron: 3mg

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