Sweet and Sour Chicken with tender bites of chicken, bell peppers, and pineapple in a sweet and sour sauce can be made hands-off in the Instant Pot in just a few minutes. To make this Chinese take-out style dish even more weeknight-friendly, cook pot-in-pot rice at the same time.
Before mid-March, I never could have imagined what it might be like to have the whole world shut down for weeks and weeks on end. So many things about these past weeks have been really hard, but it has not been hard for me personally to have a wide open calendar. As an introvert and a homebody, I’m pretty content to head into a new week with nothing but time as a family in the gaps between work.
One thing I have certainly missed though is the nights off from cooking. Yes, I make a living cooking and I definitely love to cook, but providing three meals for a family of five every single day…it’s a grind. There’s just no question about it. I’ve been digging deep to pull out some of our old and nearly-forgotten favorites, and to come up with totally new recipes that keep things fun (and, hopefully, keep dishes to a minimum).
This recipe, like all of my favorite Instant Pot take-out fake-out recipes, is almost as easy as ordering take-out online. And bonus that it’s a fair amount healthier too.
By the way, many of my other favorite Instant Pot take-out fake-out favorites are in The Ultimate Guide to 6-Minute Instant Pot Meals.
Healthier Sweet and Sour Chicken
Classic take-out sweet and sour chicken is deep fried and tossed in a super sweet sauce. This Instant Pot version has all the flavor in a lighter, healthier package. Cooking the chicken right in the sauce means the dish requires no frying at all and the chicken soaks up all of that delicious sauce flavor while it cooks. This version of Sweet and Sour Chicken also scraps the high amount of sugar in the take-out versions, while still delivering flavor that is balanced in its sweet and sour notes.
- Chicken Breast – Boneless, skinless chicken breast works best here. Cube it before combining it with sauce so the dish is ready to serve straight from the Instant Pot to your plate. The chicken will absorb sauce as it pressure cooks and stay tender. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs can work too, but they make the sauce taste almost a bit to oily / rich.
- Fresh Garlic and Ginger – These aromatics add a lot of nuanced flavor to the sauce. The classic take-out sauce is sometimes one dimensional with just the sweet and sour flavors coming through. With the addition of fresh garlic and ginger, this homemade sauce instantly gets a leg up on the takeout version.
- Canned Pineapple – It’s handy to use canned pineapple in this recipe because you get both the pineapple and the liquid (juice) to help flavor the sauce. Add the liquid to the sauce, but save the pineapple cubes to add at the end. Pineapple works so well in this dish because it has both the sweet and sour notes the sauce is known for.
- Ketchup, Apple Cider Vinegar, and Sugar – Hopefully you already have these staples in your pantry or fridge. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you could use white vinegar, but it doesn’t have the natural, subtle sweet flavor of apple cider vinegar.
- Soy Sauce – Soy sauce gives this Asian dish a subtle savory flavor. If you want to make a gluten-free version of the dish, use Tamari instead.
- Toasted Sesame Oil – This oil has a truly unique flavor that can make a homemade Chinese dish taste authentic. It’s a great pantry staple to have for making a variety of Asian and Asian-inspried dishes. Find it in the international aisle at your regular grocery store.
- Bell Pepper – Red or green bell peppers work well. Be sure to chop them into bite-sized pieces. If you want to have them almost disappear into the sauce, you can also dice them very fine. You’ll add them at the end of cooking and just simmer for a minute or two so they hold their shape. (If you pressure cook the bell peppers along with the chicken, they practically turn to mush.)
- Red Pepper Flakes – Just add this if you want a spicy element to the dish. I think a little spice really helps balance everything, but totally up to you if you want to add it!
How to Make Instant Pot Sweet And Sour Chicken
- Separate the canned pineapple and juice. (Reserve the pineapple chunks to add at the end of cooking.)
- Combine chicken and sauce ingredients in the bowl of an Instant Pot.
- Add pot-in-pot rice if you’d like to cook rice at the same time. (See below for all the details on that.)
- Cook on high pressure for 6 minutes.
- Allow pressure to naturally release for 10 minutes and then release any remaining pressure.
- Use Instant Pot’s saute function (Normal / Medium) to bring the chicken and sauce to a simmer. Add the pineapple and bell peppers and saute for just a minute to soften the bell peppers.
- Add a cornstarch / water mixture and stir it into the sauce until it thickens (just a minute or two).
- Serve the chicken and sauce over rice. Enjoy!
How to Make Rice Using the Pot-in-Pot Method
Use the Pot-in-Pot (PIP) Method to cook rice at the same time as the sweet and sour chicken. Not familiar with this handy method that allows you to cook two things in the Instant Pot at the same time? Check out this post on the Pot-in-Pot Method for the Instant Pot for all of the details.
Other Asian-Inspired Weeknight Favorites
- Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps – No chopping or lengthy prep required for this easy weeknight meal of crisp lettuce wraps filled with saucy Korean ground chicken. The sauce is sweet and savory – spice it up as much as you’d like!
- Honey Garlic Chicken Fried Rice – In a sweet and savory sauce, Honey Garlic Chicken Fried Rice has tons more flavor than any fried rice you’d find at your local take-out spot. This is great served right away or tucked away for a quick and unique freezer meal.
- Instant Pot General Tso’s Chicken – Spicy and sweet, Instant Pot General Tso’s Chicken is the Chinese takeout favorite made healthier and faster (!). Nothing fried here, but still plenty of the rich, flavorful sauce that makes General Tso’s Chicken so irresistible.
- 6-Quart Instant Pot Duo – This is the Instant Pot / pressure cooker I use to test all meals on this site. It easily makes enough to serve the 5 members of our family (3 are young kids).
- Instant Pot Rack – This 2-inch rack is just the right height to hold a bowl above the other ingredients to cook using the pot-in-pot method described in this recipe.
- 7-Cup Round Pyrex Dish – I currently test all recipes using the pot-in-pot method with this oven-safe Pyrex dish. It comes with a lid, so after cooking, I close it up and put leftovers right in the fridge. The Pyrex 7-cup dish will fit in the 6-quart or 8-quart Instant Pot. In earlier recipes you will find on this site, I used the medium sized bowl that came in this Anchor 3-Piece Set of Glass Mixing Bowls which also works well.
Instant Pot Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 6-quart Instant Pot / pressure cooker
- 2-inch tall Metal Trivet
- 7-inch wide Glass Bowl
Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 1 14oz can Pineapple Chunks in Juice, use both the pineapple and the liquid
- 1 Tbsp Grated Fresh Ginger
- 4 cloves Garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup Ketchup
- 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar (see note)
- 3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
- 1 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil
- 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes (optional - just add if you want some spice)
- 1 1/2 lbs Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, chopped into cubes
- 1 Bell Pepper, cubed (red or green)
- 2 Tbsp Cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp Water
- 1 Tbsp Chopped Green Onions / Scallions (optional)
Pot-in-Pot Rice (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups Long Grain Rice (Basmati rice works really well with this method)
- 1 1/2 cups Water
Strain the pineapple so that you separate out the pineapple chunks and the liquid (juice). You should have about 1 cup of pineapple juice, but don’t worry if you have slightly more or less.
In the bowl of the Instant Pot, combine pineapple juice (keep the pineapple chunks separate), ginger, garlic, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, toasted sesame oil, red pepper flakes (if using), and chicken. (Note: If you don't want to add the pot-in-pot rice, skip ahead to Step #6.)
Top the chicken and sauce with a 2” rack then with a 7-cup glass bowl. (Be sure that both the rack and bowl are approved for use in the Instant Pot.)
Rinse the rice well.
Fill the bowl with rice and 1 ½ cups water.
Close and lock the lid.
Set the steam valve to Sealing.
Cook on manual / high pressure for 6 minutes.
When done cooking, leave the machine on Warming (most machines automatically revert to this after cooking). Allow pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes. (Tip: I like to set a kitchen timer so that I don’t get distracted and forget.)
Manually release any remaining pressure.
Carefully remove the bowl of rice and rack and set aside, covered, to keep warm.
Turn on the Instant Pot’s saute function to Normal / Medium.
When sauce is simmering, add pineapple chunks and bell peppers to sauce and simmer for 1 minute.
Whisk together cornstarch and 1 Tbsp water.
Pour water-cornstarch mixture into sauce. Simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn off saute function. Taste sauce. If you’d like it to be spicier, stir in some more red pepper flakes or some hot sauce.
Serve chicken and sauce over rice. Top with chopped green onions.
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