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Sweet and sour chicken meatballs

Sweet and sour chicken was something my mum used to make for a regular midweek family tea back in the 80s! My brother and I loved it. Mum’s was different to this; I think it was a stir fry in fact, but still it featured pineapple and also a made from scratch sweet and sour sauce. I asked her about it recently and she said the recipe was off the back of a cornflour packet!

I love sweet and sour, but never order it from the takeaway. It always feels a little bit too… radioactive. The worst thing you could say about my sauce is that it is merely a little sugary (ketchup and also some brown sugar). However that is counterbalanced with the fact that the balls feature two lots of hidden vegetables, carrots and red pepper. The latter is something my kids refuse to eat. So, yeah I felt a little smug as they chomped happily through the lot.

I have never made chicken meatballs before, and I was worried about how they’d turn out. Would they be too mushy? Do you know what? They were lovely, and it was very easy to get this dinner together too. I made the meatballs before I went off on the school run, then chucked the rest together when I got back. Back of the net, I think a certain fictional middle aged sports presenter with a comb over would say.

Serves: 4 (2 adults and 2 kids)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

500g skinless chicken breasts (free-range or organic ideally)
2 carrots, grated
1 red pepper, chopped small
1 clove garlic, grated
1 thumbs’ length of ginger, grated
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of honey
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons of flour
3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

For the sauce: 
About 250g pineapple, fresh or tinned
500ml chicken stock
6 tablespoons of tomato ketchup
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons of brown sugar

Straight to wok noodles (one packet)


  1. Whizz up the chicken breasts with the grated carrot, chopped pepper, grated ginger and garlic, plus honey, sesame oil and salt. Pulse it, and only pulse as much as you just need to – you don’t want to create too fine a mix. (This is why you add chopped, grated ingredients, to the processor doesn’t have to work too hard.) Add the flour at the end, using a spoon to stir in and gauge how much is needed – less is more. 
  2. It is a sticky, wet mix, so you’ll need to add some more flour to a plate, then pick out golf ball sized amounts using a spoon and, using floured hands, make them into balls. Roll them in flour again once the balls are made to prevent them being too sticky to handle. 
  3. Heat a pan till smoking then add the oil (enough to cover the base of the pan) and let that get hot too. Add the meatballs, careful not to overcrowd the pan (do it in two lots if you have a small frying pan). Don’t move them! This is key to avoid sticking. Only when they have formed a crispy crust, i.e. a few minutes, then turn them. Try to brown like this on all sides. Once browned all over, take out and set aside to drain on some kitchen paper. You can do this bit ahead. 
  4. Drain the fat out the pan. Then add hot stock and all the other sauce ingredients (apart from the pineapple). Let it reduce by a third on full heat – it should thicken – then turn down the heat and add the pineapple, then the meatballs. Toss them in the sauce and allow them to fully heat through – should take about 10 minutes – and eventually, last of all, add the noodles. The sauce should be sticky and reduced at the end. (Take a meatball out and cut in half to check they’re cooked). 
  5. Enjoy – and feel free to use chopsticks if you’re all swish like that. We don’t. 

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