It drives me completely crazy that it’s impossible to find a good recipe online for sweet and sour sauce like the bright red stuff they have at Chinese takeout restaurants. Or that it’s not just sold in bottles at the store.
I don’t want sweet chili sauce, I don’t want duck sauce, I don’t want chunks of whatever (peppers? onions? fruit?) in it, and I don’t want it to be some fancy concoction worthy of a gourmet meal. I want it to taste and look like the stuff that comes in a little plastic container when you order sesame chicken and egg rolls at 10 pm on a Friday night from your favorite takeout joint.
Oh, and for god’s sake, I DO NOT want it to contain ketchup. Why does every recipe online contain ketchup? There’s no reason for it to contain ketchup. It doesn’t taste like tomato, it has vinegar in it already, it has sugar in it already, and there’s red food dye to get the color. Not to mention if I asked for ketchup at my favorite takeout place, they’d probably laugh at me.
Is a good sweet and sour sauce recipe too much to ask?
At it’s most basic, sweet and sour sauce is sugar for the sweet and vinegar for the sour. It’s almost always red, and it’s usually fruity. So working with that, this is the tried and true recipe I’ve come up with for you.
And yes, there’s red food dye. You can leave it out, but then the sauce will be either yellow or brown, so I don’t recommend it. You can get less chemical-bomb food dyes made with beets if you want, or just the easter egg stuff at the regular grocery store (which is what I used). It’s up to you. Personally, I think we eat with our eyes first, and therefore I want it to be pretty. I’m not aiming for optimal health here when I make a sauce that is almost half sugar.
You don’t really need the soy sauce, but I think it lends a nice depth of flavor. I’ve definitely had it with and without at takeout places. If you’re gluten free and using tamari, you may want to cut the tamari in half and then taste because it’s more intense than a lot of regular soy sauces.
Also, if you don’t have rice vinegar, you can use apple cider vinegar or plain old white vinegar in this recipe! Rice vinegar will give you a slightly more authentic taste, but this stuff is mostly about the sugar, and any vinegar will do to give it some tang.
Alright, onto the recipe!
Restaurant Style Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1 cup canned pineapple juice*
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce or GF tamari**
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2-4 drops red food coloring optional, but very recommended
Add pineapple juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce (see notes), and sugar to a sauce pan and whisk together. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
While you're waiting for the sauce to boil, mix together your cornstarch and water to make a slurry.
Once the sauce is boiling (big bubbles), add in the cornstarch slurry. Stir until thickened and then remove from heat.
Add in your food coloring. Do not add it in before this or it will lose some of it's vibrancy and you'll end up needing more.
Let cool at room temperature. Store in refrigerator.
*This is slightly more than 1 can of most pineapple juice.
**Not all Tamari is gluten free, and not all gluten free soy sauce is created equal. Check your labels and stay away from things with added sugar. If using tamari, you may want to leave the soy sauce out and then taste, then if it's missing something, add 1 TBSP and taste. Tamari is more intense than standard soy sauce, so make sure you don't overpower the sauce.