Sweet and Sour Fried Fish Recipe

Sweet and Sour Fried Fish

Sweet and sour dishes are probably some of the most popular dishes in Chinese American restaurants. Sweet sour pork especially seem to have become very much a staple of any Chinese restaurant here. My mom used to make sweet sour dishes at home a lot too. And the color is nothing like anything I’ve seen at the Chinese restaurants here.

Here, most sweet sour dishes are BRIGHT RED and the sauce tends to run more sweet than it does sour. I have never quite got used to that red coloring when I eat sweet sour dishes at restaurants here.

No Need to Go Deep

Truth be told, I don’t really like making sweet sour dishes because the meat normally has to be deep fried before the sauce is made. And I’m not a big fan of deep frying. Every time I deep fry, I’m reminded of why I don’t like it–my kitchen and whole house gets oily and I tend to get so grossed out from all the oil, that I don’t enjoy eating the food. That is not to say I don’t like deep-fried foods, I love them (can you say FRIED CHICKEN–Yum!)! I just choose to order them at restaurants and have them do the dirty work for me.

But I’ve found that when you use fish, especially fish fillets, you don’t have to deep fry. Just a coating of seasoned flour and pan frying will suffice! So every so often, I will make sweet and sour fish.

It’s So Simple!

And when I do, I try to recreate the sauce that my mom uses to make her sweet and sour dishes. It’s actually quite simple–it’s really just a combination of tomato ketchup and sweet chilli sauce with a touch of soy sauce and sugar. Add this up with some water and some cornstarch and you’re pretty much good to go. The tomato ketchup gives the sweet and sour flavors you need and the sweet chilli sauce adds a little more depth (not really very much heat) to the overall flavor of the sauce. If you don’t have sweet chilli sauce, you can also use sriracha to add some heat but you’d have to add a bit more sugar.

As for the vegetables that go into the sauce, you can use almost any hard, crunchy vegetables you have on hand. The basic vegetables I would normally use include diced onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. If you have them, you can include bell peppers, pineapples, zucchini or just mix and match as you please!

This time around, I cut up some thin slivers of ginger and fried that golden before adding the rest of the vegetables. I did this because I find that ginger goes really well with fish and I happen to have lots of ginger on hand.

On to the recipe…

Sweet and Sour Fish

For the fish:
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 4oz halibut fillets (any firm white fish will work, I’ve used tilapia with great success as well)
1/2 cup cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp white pepper

For the sauce:
1 inch ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 yellow onion, large diced
1 mini cucumber, or 1/4 English cucumber, large diced
8-10 cherry tomatoes, or 1 globe tomato, large diced
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
4 Tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch

1. Pat fish fillets dry and coat them with the seasoned cornstarch.
2. To your saute pan, add vegetable oil and heat over medium heat.
3. When oil is shimmering, add fish fillets and pan fry till golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Do not crowd the pan by placing too many fillets in the pan at one time. Transfer to a plate while you prepare the sauce.

Pan-frying fish fillets for sweet sour fish

Pan-fry fish fillets for sweet sour fish

4. Prepare the sauce: combine the ketchup, sweet chilli sauce, sugar, water, soy sauce and cornstarch and set aside.
5. If your pan still has a lot of oil, remove all but 1 tablespoon from the pan. Throw in the ginger and fry till golden brown over med heat.
6. Add onions and stir-fry over med-high heat for one minute. Onions should still be quite firm. Add the rest of the vegetables you are using and give it a quick stir.

Onions, Tomatoes, and Ginger for Sweet Sour Fish

Onions,tomatoes, and ginger for sweet sour fish

7. Pour in the sauce and turn heat to med-low. Stir sauce around. The sauce should start to thicken. Taste and adjust seasonings (if not sweet enough, add more sugar, if not sour enough, add more ketchup or white vinegar).

Pouring Sweet Sour Sauce on Vegetables

Pouring Sweet Sour Sauce on Vegetables
8. Remove from heat and pour sauce over fish. Serve immediately with rice.

Sweet Sour Fried Fish

 Sweet Sour Fried Fish

Concession: You know how Nate was telling you about the Old Bay blackened halibut in a previous post and how he used his cast iron pan and the fish did not stick at all? Well, he suggested I use the cast iron pan to fry my sweet and sour fish. Of course, I was dubious and chose to ignore his suggestion, going with my not very non-stick pan instead.

And as you can see from the "Pan-Frying Fish Fillets" picture, the fish did not come off perfectly clean. So I concede, he was right (as he gloatingly showed me when he made the blackened halibut right after I was done with this dish). I will not doubt the ability of the cast iron pan from now on.


Cheers, Annie

17 thoughts on “Sweet and Sour Fried Fish Recipe”

  1. >growing up chinese in the U.S., i was always surprised why the sweet-sour sauce in chinese restaurants (as opposed to fast food) was always so bright red… hmm 🙂 but it looks divine!

  2. >Nice to know it only takes a few tablespoons of oil to get fish fillets THIS crispy. I have always avoided frying at home because I didn’t want a vat of leftover used oil afterwards. The hubster — who loves all things fried — will be happy to know about this method.

  3. >Annie,

    Thanks for the blog post about the egg tarts. Since reading it, I have thought about those tarts almost daily. My husband is visiting on business and as soon as he was off the plane, he made his way to Golden Gate Bakery (thank you for putting up google maps, it made navigating so much easier.) He bought a dozen and now is riding the Cal Train to Palo Alto and phoned to say, “Those egg tarts are so wonderful.” I do believe those tarts will not see the light of day.

    Thanks again.

    Warm Regards,


  4. >our childhood fave and now my boiboi’s too :p

    wishing both of you cartful of good luck, joy, prosperity and best of health in the year of Ox!

  5. >I hate frying foods myself because of the mess it leaves. I feel your pain Nate.

    I grew up ordering lots of sweet and sour dishes at Chinese restaurants. It has to do with it being my Dad’s favorite, and it carried on to me. I’ll try this at home. I’m happy to know that my kitchen won’t be left in a greasy mess afterwards.

  6. >I like your photograph for this sweet and sour fish. It looks so delicious. I am sure the taste is even better. Yummy!

  7. >I must admit that whenever someone says “sweet and sour”, I think of bright red, super-gloppy sauce that’s way too sweet. But your dish looks wonderful, so maybe cooking at home is the solution to the Chinese-American Restaurant Woes.

  8. >@all – thanks for your comments!

    @Pearl – and the sauces seem to be getting redder all the time!

    @Carolyn – hope you and hubby get to try the recipe!

    @Life – how mean of your husband to taunt you with that! 🙁

    @babe_kl – thanks, and Happy New Year to you too!

    @Lydia – it almost always is better at home, because you can control everything, from the sugar to the starches to the oil, to your liking.

  9. >I made this recipe on Monday, and made it again with chicken breast cut up into smaller pieces yesterday. It is AMAZING! My husband & I devoured it, and I passed your blog onto my mom for her to try! Thank you very much!

  10. >@Emily – thank you for the feedback! Wow, our recipe is good enough for Mom. We are honored.

  11. >Sweet and sour fish is one of my favorite. I would always cook this recipe by myself. Yours looks a little better so I might as well give it a try

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