Chinese leftovers are one of the small joys in life; there’s nothing like coming home after a day out and remembering that there are leftovers in the fridge for you. The problem with reheating sweet and sour chicken is that sometimes, improper techniques could render the chicken soggy or bland.
With so many ways to reheat something in your kitchen, what is the best way to reheat sweet and sour chicken?
The best way is to rely on a combination of the microwave and an air fryer. If you don’t have an air fryer, the oven will do as well. The microwave is easy, but at the expense of the texture of your chicken.
Best Way To Reheat Sweet And Sour Chicken
The ideal situation for reheating sweet and sour chicken is to get it as close to the original taste and texture as you can. The chicken should stay crisp and succulent, and you want the sauce to be flavorful and sticky. Most sweet and sour chicken is more glazed than saucy, which could pose a problem.
If the sauce and the chicken are already together, there’s the risk of the glaze seeping into the breading of the chicken and making it soggy. Unfortunately, if it’s been in the fridge for a day or so sitting in the sauce, this might be inevitable.
When at all possible, heat up the sauce and the chicken separately. You could also attempt to dab away some of the sauce if you have more of it than you need. If you don’t have any extra sauce to top the sweet and sour chicken with, you might have to come to terms with slightly soggy chicken.
That said, using these recommended ways to reheat sweet and sour chicken can give you the best shot at that ideal crispiness.
Combination Of Microwave And Air Fryer
As stated, if you can heat up the sauce and the air fryer individually, go that route. It will ensure that the sauce is warm and sticky while the chicken gets adequately crisped.
- Remove your chicken from the sauce and dab it with paper towels. Place it in a microwave safe bowl.
- Preheat your air fryer to 390F/200C.
- While you’re waiting for the air fryer to preheat, pour your sauce into a microwave safe container before covering it with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in the wrap with a fork or skewer.
- Heat the sauce in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Be careful not to overheat it, as this could negatively impact the texture and flavor of your sweet and sour sauce. Set the sauce aside.
- Place the chicken into your air fryer basket and heat it for 3-5 minutes.
- Let chicken cool on a wire rack before serving.
Once you’ve heated both elements, you’re ready to reunite them and enjoy your meal. Serve it over warm rice or noodles. You can also spice things up by adding on some red pepper flakes, or add fresh garnish with green onions.
If you don’t have an air fryer, you can achieve something similar by putting your chicken pieces into the oven. Spread them out on a baking sheet in an oven preheated to the same degree. Allow the chicken to bake for 3-5 minutes.
Your chicken will be crispy and juicy, even if it’d been sitting in the sauce overnight. The air fryer is ideal for making the tender breaded meat delicious again. This is the best way to reheat sweet and sour chicken.
If you absolutely cannot separate your sweet and sour chicken from the sauce, you might still be able to reheat it in the air fryer.
Lay down foil in your air fryer for easy cleanup. Then, place your sauced chicken inside. Heat it at the same time and temperature as you did the unsauced version. The sauce will likely thicken up more and become very sticky through this process, so it’s best to scrape off as much as you can.
Once that’s done, remove it from the basket and allow it to cool for 60 seconds. You might wind up with slightly mushy chicken, but it will not be completely soggy.
- When using an oven instead of the air fryer, avoid the temptation to cover your reheated sweet and sour chicken with foil. While it will help them warm, the lack of air circulation will inhibit their ability to crisp.
- Let the chicken rest after it has been removed from the heat of the air fryer or the oven. Doing so allows the difference in air temperatures to work within the molecules of the breading, ensuring maximum crispiness. If you reintegrate the chicken and the sauce too early, the meat will absorb the hot sauce too fast and get soggy again.
- If you remove all of the sauce from the chicken with your paper towel in hopes of getting it nice and crispy, you might miss your tangy sweet and sour sauce. Bottles of sweet and sour sauces are commercially available, or you can make your own. Mix pineapple juice, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce over heat until they’re thickened and the flavor is to your liking. Add cornstarch to thicken if needed.
In The Oven
In the cases where the sauce is too thickly glazed on the chicken and you don’t want to spend time scraping that delicious, tangy sauce off of each and every piece, the oven is a decent alternative. There are a few ways you can spin this reheating method depending on how much time you have and if your sauce and chicken are seperate.
If your sauce and chicken are together, the process is fairly simple. Preheat your oven to 350F/180C and place your chicken in an oven safe dish. Cover the dish with foil. What makes this different from the method outlined above, where it was suggested not to cover the meat, is that the chicken and sauce are already together. Keeping it uncovered in this case will only cause it to heat more slowly.
Warm the chicken for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it as it cooks. If it seems like the chicken is starting to over-brown and become too hard on one side, flip your pieces. Letting them overcook on one side could make them tough and difficult to chew.
If your chicken isn’t accompanied by the sauce at all (as in, you didn’t scrape any off and both elements were entirely separate), you can spritz the chicken with just a little bit of oil. This might further assist the sweet and sour chicken in getting nice and crispy.
In cases like the above, you can reheat the sauce in a saucepan or in the microwave. The saucepan would be the best option if you want to make more sauce or add new seasonings to the mix.
- You can also use a broiler to reheat your chicken. Because of how it directs heat and how close the meat will be to that heat source make for an excellently reheated sweet and sour chicken. Take care not to burn it, however, being sure to check it midway through the cooking process.
- The oven method might not recapture all of the chicken’s original crunchiness. However, it’s ideal if you’re reheating a large quantity at once. Make sure that your chicken is always in an even layer when you’re reheating it.
On The Stove
This method is especially useful if you have the chicken and sauce isolated from each other. It is quick and fairly easy to execute.
- Heat a neutral oil, like vegetable or olive oil, in a skillet over medium heat. You can also use peanut oil or coconut oil if you want to impart a little extra flavor.
- Add your chicken to the pan and allow it to refry for 4-6 minutes, until it is thoroughly warmed. The oil will help it to get crunchier on the outside.
- Add in your sauce now, and allow it to re-coat the chicken, tossing the pan if possible for best coverage.
- Allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes after heating before serving.
This method will make the chicken crispy again, though it might not be as crunchy as it was the previous day. You’ll want to keep an eye on it as it cooks. This isn’t a ‘sit it and leave it’ reheating job; if you walk away from it, you’re running the risk that the chicken will burn, or conversely, that the oil will seep in and make the breading soggy.
- Refrying is a wonderful method if you want to spin your leftovers into something new. If you happen to have leftover plain rice as well, adding it to the skillet will allow you to make a fried rice to pair with it. The rice will soak up some of the sauce and become very flavorful.
- You can also add in new vegetables to your sweet and sour chicken. Try chopped bell peppers, broccoli, or bean sprouts. Even some aromatics like onions, ginger, and garlic can step your meal up to the next level.
In The Microwave
When you’re low on time and energy, or you just don’t have access to an oven or air fryer, the microwave might be your only choice. While the microwave is notorious for sending food to the depths of being soggy and unappealing, it can at least keep your sweet and sour chicken moist.
There’s no need to isolate the chicken and the sauce in this case. The end result will end up the same either way. This could be a good thing, as it could potentially save you a bit of time.
- Place the orange chicken in a microwave safe bowl or container. You’ll need a dish that can comfortably house all of what you’re reheating, but be cautious. If you pack too much into the plate or bowl, you risk uneven heat coverage.
- Cover the bowl in a layer of plastic wrap and seal it tightly at the sides. Stab a few holes into the plastic with a fork or knife. This will allow the extra steam to ventilate.
- Microwave the sweet and sour chicken for 30 seconds to start off with. Check it after the first 30 and stir it well to ensure that new pieces are on the top of the bowl or container.
- After a few 30 second sessions, the chicken will be very hot. Handle it carefully as you remove it from the microwave.
- Let the chicken rest for 60 seconds before you dive in.
The end result will unfortunately be somewhat soggy, and possibly even a bit spongy. However, the chicken will not be dry or chalky, since the steam worked well to maintain moisture. This is sometimes to be expected when you’re reheating leftovers. Your trusty microwave isn’t the best way to reheat sweet and sour chicken, but it’s a decent enough one when you just want to munch on that sweet sauce again.
How To Keep Sweet And Sour Chicken Crisp
Before it’s even reheated, you’ll want to give your chicken the best chance at being reheated that it can get. This all starts with how you store it, and it will even come in handy as you’re making it, should you be preparing it at home. Sweet and sour chicken can even be helpful for meal-prepping, saving you time and effort on your dinner in the future.
When you whip up a nice tangy batch of sweet and sour chicken at home, try to keep the sauce and meat separate until they’re hitting the bowl or dish. To do this, cook the sauce in one pan and fry up the meat and vegetables in another. Then, when you’re ready to combine, divide the chicken into portions you’re going to eat tonight before drizzling as much sauce as you like on them.
When you store homemade orange chicken, be sure to let it go to room temperature first before it hits the fridge or freezer. If you don’t do this step, the resulting condensation will render the chicken soggy from the start. Your sweet and sour glaze can be stored in its own airtight container alongside the chicken.
If you’re going the freezer route, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel before placing the pieces into a freezer bag. Be sure the one you’re using is airtight. You can also use a container for this, but the bag makes it easier to keep the chicken on one level.
Press any extra air out. This is another spot where a good freezer bag is the best for freezing sweet and sour chicken. The malleable nature of the bag is ideal for extracting all of the extra air, thus preventing dreaded freezer burn. If you’re using a container, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the meat. Press down to extract the extra air and keep it tight.
If you want to further preserve the chicken, you can take one more preparatory step before you bring them to the bag. Lay them on a baking sheet and flash freeze your sweet and sour chicken for one to two hours. The cold, dry air in the freezer will slightly dry out the coating, meaning there is less moisture going in when it’s time to enter the freezer.
If you’re looking to stash away your favorite Chinese restaurant’s sweet and sour offerings, you don’t have as much control over the way it is given to you. You could potentially ask for them to bring you the sauce and the chicken already separated.
However, the truth of it is that we’re not all that good at pre-planning. Usually with leftovers, you had full intentions to eat every bite, but your eyes were bigger than your stomach. There’s no harm in this, and there are still ways you can give your sweet and sour chicken the best chance at being reheated well.
If possible, try to undress the chicken. Take some paper towels and do your best to wipe off any of the extra sweet and sour glaze before you set it aside to store in the fridge. There might be more sauce on the bottom of the container, which you can siphon out into a smaller parcel and refrigerate as well.
If this isn’t possible, another way you can best reheat your sweet and sour chicken is to store it in your own container. If you find yourself without any extra to spare, you can also make your own sauce with a few select ingredients as outlined above.
It’s endlessly tempting to chuck the plastic or cardboard container that you got the food in into the fridge without a second thought. However, if you’re very concerned with how to keep that chicken crisp, take one extra step. Use an airtight container, such as plastic Tupperware, and seal it away there.
The reason these are better than the ones you’ll find from your favorite takeout joint is because they’re airtight. The familiar white paper boxes of Chinese takeaways may be iconic in their presentation, but they’re not at all airtight. When that air and condensation sets in, it will be much harder to reheat sweet and sour chicken effectively.
How Long Does Sweet And Sour Chicken Last?
The lifespan of sweet and sour chicken will depend heavily on how you store it. As always, you should not leave any food out at room temperature uncovered for more than two hours. This timeframe encapsulates the time before cooked food enters the danger zone.
Within the danger zone, bacteria will easily form on your sweet and sour chicken. It can multiply and thrive there, and even when it’s put into the freezer or fridge, the bacteria will linger. Ingesting this is a frequent cause of food poisoning and other gastrointestinal distress.
In the fridge, sweet and sour chicken will keep for about three days. After such time, it is not considered safe to eat anymore. Even besides that, it will likely have lost a lot of flavor and texture. That means that even if you use the best reheating method, you still won’t be able to make it perfectly crispy.
The USDA suggests that most things can live well in the freezer indefinitely. However, after a certain amount of time, they’ll start to lose their lustre. A loss of texture and taste are frequently noted for sweet and sour chicken. If you’ve ever eaten something that ‘tastes like a freezer’, you know what to expect.
Another risk is freezer burn. This is typically caused by the formation of ice crystals and how they react to air. When you reheat food with freezer burn, expect a severe dip in quality. It isn’t a harmful reaction, but it’s one that will make the experience of eating reheated sweet and sour chicken a bit less enjoyable.
Everyone loves sweet and sour chicken. It’s crispy and crunchy bite sized bits of breaded chicken surrounded by a sticky glaze. The glaze is as it sounds: sweet and sour, and sometimes a bit spicy. It’s a unique, tangy mixture. There’s no doubt as to why it’s a popular takeout choice.
The best way to reheat sweet and sour chicken is to make sure the chicken and the sauce are seperated. You can achieve this during the cooking process by preparing both elements individually, and combining them only when it’s time to dig in.
You can reheat the chicken in an air fryer while warming the sauce in a microwave. This is the best way to reheat sweet and sour chicken. It will make the end result perfectly crunchy and succulent. You can also use the oven, at the loss of a bit of that signature crunch.
Using a saucepan is a great way to add new elements to the dish. You can add in new vegetables or make a fresh sauce. If you have to reheat your sweet and sour chicken in the microwave, you’ll lose crispiness, but benefit from the retained moisture.