Sweet and Sour Fish

Forget take out! This sweet and sour fish recipe is super easy to make yet so tasty. Bite-sized fish are fried to golden perfection and then tossed in a sweet, tangy, and sticky sauce with colorful bell peppers for a flavorful dish!

Sweet and Sour Fish in a white serving dish with a plate of steamed rice on the side

Sweet and sour dishes trace their origin from Chinese cuisine with the original sweet and sour sauce said to have come from Hunan, a province in China. It was a combination of light vinegar and sugar and was initially used as a condiment or dipping sauce for meat and fish rather than cooking.

In the Philippines, the sweet and sour sauce or agre dulce is cornstarch with water, salt, sugar, ketchup, vinegar, and pineapple juice. The mixture is cooked until thickened and is commonly used as a sarsa for dipping or dousing over meat or fish.

There are so many ways to enjoy this dish. The sweet, tangy, and sticky sauce goes well with almost any protein, from juicy meatballs, tasty pork, lean chicken, meaty fish to crispy tofu.

The traditional Filipino version uses whole fried fish, much like the escabeche. This recipe cuts tilapia fillets into bite-size pieces which are then lightly battered, deep-fried until golden and crisp, and then tossed in the sweet and tangy sauce called agre dulce with bell peppers and onions.

While entire fish might present better in a banquet, this version is easier to eat without the troublesome head and bones to pick through.

What you’ll need

  • Fish– the recipe uses tilapia fillets as they’re meaty and relatively inexpensive. Any white fish with firm flesh such as catfish, cod, bass, or dory are also good options.
  • Soy sauce– marinates the fish to lend a savory boost of flavor
  • Flour and cornstarch– creates a golden, crispy crust
  • Beaten egg helps the breading stick
  • Oil– use oil with a neutral taste and high smoke point such as canola, safflower, grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • Bell Peppers adds color and texture. Feel free to use a mix of red and green bell peppers for more vibrant presentation
  • Pineapple Juice adds a fruity sweetness to the sauce
  • Rice Vinegar– type of vinegar made from fermented rice and has a mild and slightly sweet flavor. In a pinch, you can use apple cider vinegar as a substitute.
  • Ketchup– tomato ketchup was used in this recipe. If using banana ketchup (which is usually sweet), I suggest mixing the ingredients for the sauce together except the sugar and then add the sugar according to your preference.
  • Brown Sugar– has a less concentrated sweetness and contains molasses. If using white granulated sugar, adjust amount to taste
  • Cornstarch– thickens the sauce
  • Salt and pepper– season to taste

Helpful Tips

  • For the best crisp, maintain oil at the optimal temperature of 350 F to 375 F when deep-frying. Too high and the outside coating will burn before the inside is thoroughly cooked; too low and they’ll absorb more grease.
  • Do not overcrowd the pan and fry in batches as needed to keep the oil temperature from plummeting.
  • You can also add pineapple chunks along with the bell peppers for the extra flavor and texture.

How to serve

  • You can finish off the sweet and sour fish in two ways. You can drizzle the sauce just before serving to keep the fried fish nice and crispy, or you can simmer them in the sauce to soak it up.
  • Serve as a main entree for lunch or dinner with steamed rice, steamed veggies, and stir-fry noodles for a filling Asian-themed meal at home.

Storing leftovers

  • Store leftovers in a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave until completely warmed through.
  • If you’re planning for future meals and want the best texture, you can make the sauce ahead of time and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Batter and fry the fish when ready to serve.
Sweet and Sour Fish in a white serving dish with a plate of steamed rice on the side

Sweet and Sour Sauce Fish

Level up plain fried fish fillets into this tasty Sweet and Sour Fish! It’s easy to prepare, economical, and perfect for your everyday meals or even for special occasions.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • canola oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and cut into cubes
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly

For Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • In a bowl, combine fish and soy sauce. Marinate for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Drain well.
  • In a bowl, whisk egg until frothy.
  • In another bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Dredge fish fillets in flour mixture, dip in the beaten egg, and then dredge again in flour mixture to fully coat.
  • In a pan over medium heat, heat about 1-inch deep of oil. Add battered fish fillets and cook, turning once or twice, until golden and cooked through. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
  • In a bowl, combine pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir until smooth.
  • In a pan over medium heat, heat about 1 tablespoon oil. Add bell peppers and onions and cook, stirring regularly, until half cooked. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • In the pan, add sauce mixture and bring to a boil, whisking regularly, for about 2 to 3 minutes or until thickened.
  • Add bell peppers and onions and cook for about 1 minute or until tender yet crisp.
  • Add fried fish fillets and cook and toss quickly just until coated with sauce. Serve hot.
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