Top-rated Sweet and Sour Fish Recipe


Sweet and Sour Fish is a traditional fish dish on Chinese dining tables. Its palatable flavor of sweet and sour juice matches delicately with the tender texture of fish flesh, receiving generous praise from diners.

My memories of Sweet and Sour Fish can be traced back till childhood, where I could hardly wait to request for this sweet and sour flavored fish dish whenever I saw my mother came home with fishes in her hands. I was always staying in the kitchen watching each step while my mom’s cooking this dish, and glutted myself with the delicacy once it’s served. The beautiful memories signed by this tasty dish has rooted deeply in my mind, motivated my first cooking attempt on a fish dish when I’m grown.

Sweet and Sour Fish
Sweet and Sour Fish

The diet on fish by the Chinese writes a cherished long history, where the fish dish is named as one of the compulsory dishes for festival banquets. In addition to its excellent nutrition and taste of fish, fish also conveys good wishes symbolically in the Chinese diet culture, and further forms specific fish diet culture. There is another article named “12 Most Popular Chinese Fish Dishes,” where you may have an insight into how Chinese eat fishes, Click to check details: Chinese Fish Dishes.

“Sweet and Sour Fish” is a folk name given to home-cooking dishes. To be specific, there are three well-known fish dishes with sweet and sour taste glorying in the Chinese food and beverage industry, which are Sweet and Sour Carp of Shandong Cuisine, West Lake Poached Fish of Hangbang Dishes, Zhejiang Cuisine, and Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish of Subang Dishes, Jiangsu Cuisine. Although all of the three are well-known for the sweet and sour taste, significant gaps can be found in the cooking and seasoning methods, which forges distinct flavors.

What to prepare to cook Sweet and Sour Fish?

First of all, you need fish, indeed. Whole fish or fish fillets are both optional, of which whole fish is commonly used in the restaurant, as it allows the chef to present outstanding cutting skills and cooking techniques. Being perfected by the help of the exquisite dish decoration, the dish would undoubtedly impress diners, even though at a not so favorable price. It requires sufficient experience and technique to deep fry a whole fish and keeps it in shape, which might be a nightmare for beginners. I have heard too many complaints from my friends who failed in deep frying a whole fish and keeping it a whole. It didn’t seem the right moment when they were looking at the pieces of the fish. On the other hand, the fish fillets are much more friendly for beginners and home-cooking (Sweet and Sour Fish recipes of both whole fish and fish fillets versions are provided in this article.)

Yellow croaker
Yellow croaker

I can see that questions about the fish type are coming after me. So, what fish is the ideal fish for this dish? The answer is, there is no specific requirement. Different fishes have different nutritional values. You may choose what you like, such as perch, cod, yellow croaker, and tilapia. (In this article, we adopt yellow croaker for the whole fish version, and cod for the fish fillets version.)

Here comes one suggestion by me: try to choose the ones with fewer spines, which would facilitate the elder and the children, and low down their risks of being choked by spines. To face the actual situation in China, most Chinese are well trained to eat freshwater fishes (freshwater fishes have many tiny spines on the back) since they were young, so the key concern for Chinese is the taste of the fish rather than the spines.

In addition to fish, here is your white list for the dish: starch, flour, eggs, scallion, ginger, garlic, cooking liquor, and the raw materials for sweet and sour juice, which refer to white sugar, vinegar, and tomato ketchup.

Sweet and Sour Fish
Sweet and Sour Fish

How to cook a delicious Sweet and Sour Fish?

A fresh ingredient tells half of the success secrets of a tasty dish. Therefore, live fish is recommended. In general, I would use the seller’s slaughtering and eviscerating service at purchase, so that only simple cleaning is needed before cooking.

The formulation of the sweet and sour juice is the key factor of this dish. In the past, a traditional sweet and sour juice was made by the combination of soy sauce, white sugar, vinegar, and other raw materials in strict proportion; when time switches to today, an improved way of using tomato ketchup, sugar, and vinegar is widely accepted by many chefs, as the ketchup donates extra vivid appearance to the dish. A standard ratio of sugar and vinegar counts 1:1. However, it is flexible and adjustable at will. You may try it at 4:3 if you prefer it sweeter; or make it 3:4 if you prefer more sourness. I’d suggest you to try more to find your customized ratio.

Sweet and Sour Fish
Sweet and Sour Fish

Sweet and Sour Fish Recipe (Whole Fish Version)


  • A yellow croaker
  • 1 stalk scallion, chopped
  • 1 small piece of ginger, of which 3 quarters sliced, one quarter chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon of cooking liquor
  • 1/3 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato ketchup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2/3 cup of corn starch, divided into 2 portions of 1/3 cup
  • An appropriate amount of edible oil, for fish deep frying

Cooking Steps

  1. Wash and drain the yellow croaker, make four vertical cuts on both sides of the fish body by knife, and cut the fish flesh horizontally from the vertical cuts. Note not to cut off the back and belly of the fish, as we need to keep the fish a whole to maintain its excellent presentation. (Cutting fish might be a challenge for beginners. You may simplify the process by only making vertical cuts on both sides of the fish body, regardless of the fish shape.)

  1. Marinate the cut fish with cooking liquor, salt, and ginger slices for 20-30 minutes.

  1. Prepare the batter while marinating. Break and well-stir the egg, with 1 cup of flour, 1/3 cup of corn starch and a little water added, and stir well. The prepared batter shall be thick and smooth, with a moderate consistency, which can be reflected explicitly in a smooth and uninterrupted flow while being poured.

  1. Remove ginger slices and excess moisture after the fish is marinated. Coat the fish surface with starch evenly.

  1. Place the coated fish into prepared batter and let the fish well wrapped by the batter.

  1. Pour the oil into a pot for heat. It is recommended to put the fish into oil only when the oil temperature reaches 300 degrees F. (about 150℃). To fry the fish, please follow the guide as follows: Lift the tail of the fish bu hand so that the head of the fish faces vertically downward, and then pour the hot oil from the fish’s tail with a spoon, which allows the hot oil to flow from the tail till the head of the fish. Please pay attention to the shape of the fish during this process, as the batter is gradually shaped. Place the whole fish into the oil pot for deep frying once it’s shaped. For beginners who took the simplified steps, referring to those only made vertical cuts on the fish without a horizontal cut, the fish may be straight wholly placed into the pot for deep frying. Pick the fish up when it’s cooked.

  1. Next, we will begin to formulate the sweet and sour juice. Put 1 tablespoon of edible oil into the pan, place the chopped scallion, ginger and garlic into the pan for 10 seconds stir-fry. Add tomato ketchup, white sugar, white vinegar, 3 tablespoons of water and 1½ teaspoons of starch into the pan, stir-fry till the juice forms a paste. Turn off the fire.

  1. The last step is plate organization. Place the fish into the plate by your designed plate organization manner, and pour the sweet and sour juice on it. You may introduce some green vegetables as ornaments and decorations for an inviting appearance of the dish.

I’ve figured out that the above version of cooking has stopped many of you, as it requires perfect operation during cutting and frying the fish. Failure in either step would hinder us from cooking an exquisite course.

Here it comes another version by fish fillets, which is beginners friendly. In this way, we would be free from worrying about cutting fish and shaping the fish. I would advise you to take this recipe as a fundamental practice. You may shift to the advanced version when the whole cooking process is mastered. Practise makes perfect. I sincerely believe that by that time, you would be able to cook an excellent Sweet and Sour Fish.

Sweet and Sour Fish Fillet
Sweet and Sour Fish Fillet

Sweet and Sour Fish Recipe ( Fish fillets Version)


  • 1 pound of cod fillet (about 450g)
  • 1 tablespoon of cooking liquor
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 small piece of ginger, partially shredded for fish marinating fish, partially chopped
  • 1 stalk of scallion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2/3 cup of corn starch, divided into 2 portions of 1/3 cup
  • A little cooked sesame
  • An appropriate amount of edible oil

Cooking steps

  1. Wash the fish fillets, add cooking liquor, ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 20-30 minutes marination.

  1. Formulate the batter. Mix 1 cup of flour with 1/3 cup of corn starch and some water to stir till it reaches certain smoothness and appropriate thickness.

  1. Drain the marinated fish fillets, coat them with corn starch, and then place them into the batter to wrap them.

  1. Deep fry the fish. Place the fish fillets into the oil when the oil reaches 300 degrees F (about 150℃). Scoop up the fish fillets when the batter on the surface of the fish fillets starts to discolor and be shaped, place the fish fillets aside for air. Heat the oil again in a while and place the fish fillets into the oil once again till they turn into gold color. 2-session deep-frying contributes to the better taste of the fish, and this is part of the secret recipes from the Chinese master chefs.

  1. Start the sweet and sour juice formulation one the fish is fried. Put one tablespoon of edible oil into the pan, add the chopped scallion and ginger, stir-fry for a few seconds, then add tomato ketchup, white sugar, vinegar, 3 spoons of water and 1½ teaspoon of starch, and stir well in the pan.

  1. Place the fish fillets into the pot when the sweet and sour juice is about to form a paste, stir fry till the juice wraps all the fish fillets. Place the fish fillets into the plate and sprinkle some chopped scallion and cooked sesame before serve.

Last but not least, there are some additions tips about Sweet and Sour Fish as follows:

The sweet and sour juice is the key to a perfect Sweet and Sour Fish. There are many optional sweet and sour juice with various ingredients, of which the tomato ketchup+sugar+vinegar is one of the popular formulas. However, you may also add plum sauce, lemon juice, and sweet and spicy sauce to enrich the flavor of the dish, or you may even find a vast range of sweet and sour sauces with different characters on Don’t hesitate to try it. Your version may become the pro version!