Cook up this classic restaurant-styled Chinese sweet and sour fish dish. Plus this amazing recipe for an authentic Cantonese-inspired sweet and sour sauce!
Have you always wanted to know how to cook a dish of sweet and sour fish as good as your favourite Chinese restaurant version? Well, I can totally identify with that because it’s what I’ve been aspiring to since I started cooking more and more at home.
Sweet and sour fish happens to be my hubby’s favourite, so naturally, I often cook this dish. And it helped a lot that hubby has such a discerning taste for sweet and sour anything! He knew exactly what was lacking or that could be improved.
Sometimes, the fish I used wasn’t quite right and didn’t go well with the sauce. And my greatest peeve of all, especially when frying slices, was that the fish was not crispy enough or didn’t stay crisp for long.
Finally, there was the matter of getting the sauce perfect! Truth be told, it took quite a bit of trial and error on my part to perfect it. Well, because I think the all-important sweet and sour sauce can totally make or break the dish, don’t you agree? But more on that in a bit.
What fish to use?
First of all, let’s talk about which fishes are more suited for a dish like sweet and sour fish. You might already have your favourites. If these fishes have little to mild flavours and have firm flesh, then these should work quite well.
By far, my favourite choice is the the red snapper. Other popular choices include sea bass, grouper, catfish or dory, perch and trout. Fishes with very delicate or flaky flesh aren’t as suitable. That’s because the flesh can come apart easily during frying.
The basics of a sweet and sour sauce
Preparing homemade sweet and sour sauce is very easy. The simplest sweet and sour sauce uses as few as 3 ingredients. A decent one just needs tomato sauce or ketchup, vinegar and sugar.
To be honest, I started out with many 3-ingredient sweet and sour sauce recipes. But then I wanted to replicate restaurant-style sweet and sour dishes. I love the complex, sophisticated flavours of that wonderfully ambrosial sweet and sour sauce!
These often involve several ingredients, as many as 5 to 6, each adding nuances and layers, creating a robust flavour disposition.
When it comes to sweet and sour dishes, I think most of us have indelible impressions of the Cantonese version. The Cantonese Chinese are well known for their refined culinary heritage. And Cantonese cuisine is famed for its elegance and sophistication.
What makes a good sweet and sour sauce
This sweet and sour sauce is indeliby sweet, piquant, and punctuated with vinegarish nuances. It is one of my favourite versions, and is a treasured, tested Cantonese recipe.
It has the perfect consistency. Thick and sticky, and much like a sweet caramelised glaze, this sauce deliciously clings to, and coats all the ingredients in the dish.
I’ve had many wonderful compliments and positive feedback on how delicious and authentic it tastes, so this sauce recipe is definitely a keeper!
Ingredients for perfect sweet and sour sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Chilli sauce
- Plum sauce
- Brown sugar
- Lemon Juice
Sweet and sour fish: Step-by-step
Cook the sauce
Just put all the ingredients into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Once it comes a gentle boil, turn off the heat and set aside.
Fry the fish twice for crispier slices
Coat with potato starch and plain flour mixture. Dust excess off.
Tip: For even crispier fish slices, slice the fish thinly, not thicker than 5-mm. Using potato starch will give you a crispier coating than corn starch.
Heat a wok filled with 1/3 cup of cooking oil over high heat. When very hot, fry the fish slices in 2 batches. Fry until the fish just starts to brown lightly. Remove with a sieve into a wire basket or rack.
Wait for 10 to 15 seconds, and allow the oil to get hot again. Re-fry until the fish slices turn golden brown. Frying twice will help draw out excess oil and make the slices more crispy. Repeat with the second batch.
Bringing it all together
- Step 1: Heat some oil in wok over high heat. When hot, stir fry the shallots and diced peppers until fragrant, and peppers start to soften.
- Step 2: Add the tomatoes, and stir fry until the tomatoes begin to soften.
- Step 3: Put in diced pineapples (or lychee halves) and any juices, and stir fry for a few seconds.
- Step 4: Pour in the cooked sauce, stir fry with the vegetables and allow it to come to a boil.
- Step 5: Return the fried fish slices and toss a couple of times until all the fish slices are evenly coated in sauce. Turn off the heat and dish out immediately.
- Step 6: The sweet and sour fish is now ready to serve!
Can I use a whole fish?
This works just as well with a whole fish. In the same way, coat the whole fish with starch on both sides and fry in very hot oil. Fry on one side until lightly browned, before turning over to fry the other side. Only turn over once!
Just as with frying the fish slices twice, fry till 80% cooked. Remove and wait 10 to 15 seconds and let the oil get hot again.
Fry again on both sides, this time until golden brown. This will help draw out excess oil from the fish, making it more crispy.
When completely cooked till golden brown and crispy, remove the fish and drain of excess oil. Place onto a serving plate.
In a cleaned wok, heat up some oil. Proceed with frying the vegetables and adding the sweet and sour sauce. Add a bit of water if too thick. Once the sauce is bubbling hot, scoop out with the vegetables directly onto the whole fried fish and serve immediately.
More seafood recipes to inspire your next meal
- Cantonese-Style Steamed Cod with Special Soy Sauce
- Fish Head Curry – Easy, Delicious, Make-from-Scratch Recipe
- Cantonese Stir-Fried Prawns in Special Sauce (Har Lok)
- Teochew-Style Steamed Pomfret
Tried this recipe? I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.
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Sweet and Sour Fish & The Best Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe!
- 300 g fish fillet sliced into 5-mm thin slices
- 2 tbsp potato starch mixed with 2 tbsp plain flour
- ⅓ cup cooking oil
- 4 shallots peeled and halved
- ¼ cup diced green pepper
- ¼ cup diced red pepper
- ¼ cup diced yellow pepper
- 1 to mato cut into wedges
- 50 g canned pineapple diced (or canned lychees, halved)
For the sweet and sour sauce:
- 5 tbsp tomato sauce
- 3 tbsp chilli sauce
- 3 tbsp plum sauce
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ tsp salt or to taste
- Mix all sauce ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil. Turn off heat, set aside.
- Coat fish slices thoroughly in potato or corn starch. Shake off the excess and discard. Set aside.
- Heat a wok with oil over high heat till hot. Fry the fish in two batches, constantly stirring and separating fish slices in hot oil. Deep fry till fish slices turn light brown and just begin to crisp at the edges. Sieve out into a wire basket or rack.
- Wait for 10 to 15 seconds, and allow the oil to get very hot again. Put back the fried slices, and this time fry until golden brown. Repeat the process with the second batch.
- Pour out oil, leaving 2 tbsp in the wok and heat up over medium fire. When hot, add diced onion and peppers, fry for about a minute. Add tomato slices and stir fry for another 15 to 20 seconds. Add the diced pineapple (or lychee halves) and stir fry for a few more seconds to mix well.
- Add the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add 2 to 3 tbsp water. The sauce should still be slightly thick and sticky, not watery. Stir quickly to mix well. Bring the sauce to a boil.
- Put in fried fish slices all at once, quickly toss a couple of times to coat fish evenly with sauce. Turn off heat, dish out onto serving plate. Serve immediately.