Gluten-Free Sweet Fire Chicken is an all-time favorite meal! This sweet and spicy Panda Express copycat recipe is a tasty gluten-free rendition of the popular restaurant dish. Great for when that fast-food craving hits!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
If you can't have gluten but you miss a panda bowl with sweet fire chicken over steamed rice, the only option to satisfy that craving is to make this easy homemade gluten-free version.
That's because Panda Express as a whole is unapologetically not gluten-free. Pull up their allergen menu, and you'll see it states, "Panda Express does not have any vegetarian or gluten free dishes." Basically the only items without gluten are rice and a few of the sauces. Also, everything is made in shared cooking spaces, so I assume they are not comfortable claiming anything is safe to eat for someone with a gluten intolerance.
Luckily, it's relatively easy to make it yourself and the results are honestly quite tasty! So much so, this has become a favored dinner in our house!
It all starts with breading the chicken, I like to start with my gluten-free chicken tenders recipe or these gluten-free chicken cutlets because the chicken is so crunchy and delicious! Then whip up a quick 5 minute sauce to serve along with the chicken and some steamed white rice!
Breading the chicken is the most labor intensive part of this recipe, but it can be done ahead of time if you like. All in all this meal can be put together in under an hour or so. Do a little meal prep and bread the chicken ahead of time and this meal comes together in well under 30 minutes!
If you like this copycat recipe, be sure to check out my gluten-free rendition of P.F. Chang's Spicy Chicken as well!
- Sweet Chili Sauce: Store-bought sweet chili sauce is the base of this recipe and what makes the entire dish! It's a thick sweet and spicy sauce usually made of sugar, water, rice vinegar, garlic, red chili pepper, salt, some sort of starch, and xanthan gum.
There are several brands on the shelves. While not all are labeled gluten-free, none (that I've seen) have gluten-containing ingredients. Which you choose will come down to your level of comfort/sensitivity in this area. Below are the options I've seen. I'm sure there are even more out there, so just take a look at the labels before purchasing.
- Thai Kitchen sweet red chili dipping sauce is labeled gluten-free.
- Frank's Red Hot also sells a sweet chili sauce that does not contain gluten-ingredients. It is not labeled gluten-free, but the company will declare all sources of gluten in their products on the label. They do not hide gluten in other ingredients like 'spices' or 'natural flavors'. Frank's also claims to have appropriate cleaning procedures in place in their facilities.
- Panda Express sells their sauces bottled as well. It does not contain gluten ingredients but I could not find any other allergen information about the product or their manufacturing processes.
- Chicken: Use either chicken tenders or chicken breasts.
- Red Bell Pepper: You can use any color of sweet bell pepper: red, yellow, or orange. Red is authentic to Panda Express.
- Onion: Use any sweet onion.
- Pineapple: Canned pineapple in 100% juice, either chunks or tidbits, is perfect! Of course you can use fresh as well.
- Gluten-Free Flour: Use any blend you have on hand, plain rice flour, or cornstarch. All are fine.
- Eggs and Milk: Use diary-free milk if needed. Plain buttermilk can be substituted for egg-free.
- Gluten-Free Panko Breadcrumbs: I prefer Kikkoman or 4C brand. They have the largest, crunchiest panko crumbs!
- Steamed white rice for serving.
How to Make Gluten-Free Sweet Fire Chicken
- Bread the chicken tenders. Dip first in flour, then egg, and lastly in breadcrumbs. Allow the chicken to rest for 30 minutes if possible. This helps the breading stick to the chicken.
- Fry the chicken tenders in oil until cooked through. They can be deep fried or pan fried. Dice the chicken into bite size pieces.
- Sauté the onion and red bell pepper in a hot pan until crisp tender. Then add in the pineapple and let it heat through.
- Add in the sweet chili sauce and simmer until heated through, just a minute or two.
- In the meantime, steam white rice according to your favorite method. I always cook mine in the instant pot!
To serve, lay down a bed of steamed rice. Top with chicken and a spoonful of the sauce. Enjoy immediately while still warm!
Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated, but this dish is best served fresh!
Top Tips and FAQ
- If you have time, bread the chicken a little ahead and let it rest for about 30 minutes. This helps the breading stick better to the chicken. If you want more details on this process be sure to check out the chicken tenders post.
- You can bread chicken tenders whole, dice them first, or used diced chicken breast. Any option is fine. If you cook the chicken tenders whole, dice them before serving with the sauce.
- Always check labels on the sweet chili sauce to ensure there are not gluten ingredients.
Sweet Fire Chicken is a popular dish on the Panda Express Menu. It consists of breaded chicken and chunks of sweet onion, red bell pepper, and pineapple in a sweet chili sauce.
Sweet fire chicken is best described as sweet, tangy, and a little bit spicy.
It depends on the specific sweet chili sauce you choose, some are spicier than others. Generally, it is mildly spicy but not too hot for kids to enjoy. A dash of sriracha can be added to the sauce to make it even spicier if you like!
Gluten-Free Sweet Fire Chicken - Panda Express Copycat
- 1.5 lb chicken tenders, or breasts
- ½ cup gluten-free flour, or cornstarch
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- 8 ounce package gluten-free panko breadcrumbs
Sweet Fire Sauce
- 2 red bell pepper
- 1 sweet onion
- 20 ounce can pineapple chunks, or tidbits in 100% juice, drained
- 1 cup gluten-free Thai sweet chili sauce
- 2 cups long grain white rice, steamed
- ½ cup oil, for frying
Bread the Chicken
- Dice the chicken into 1-inch cubes.*see notes
- Set up a breading station with three shallow dishes. Put gluten-free flour one, whisk together eggs and milk in the next, and put breadcrumbs in the third dish.
- Dredge one piece of chicken in the flour, toss to coat, and shake off the excess.
- Then dip it into the egg mixture and let the excess drip off.
- Lastly, coat with panko breadcrumbs.
- Set each piece of chicken aside and repeat until all the chicken has been coated. Let rest for 30 minutes, if possible.**see notes
Prepare the Sweet Fire Chicken
- Steam rice according to your preferred method.
- Dice the bell peppers and onion into 1-inch pieces. Drain the pineapple. Set aside.
- Heat about ½ cup of oil in a large deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. (You can also deep fry the chicken if you prefer.)
- When hot, fry the chicken in batches until golden brown and cooked through. Remove the chicken to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
- Once all the chicken is cooked, remove excess oil leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pan.
- With heat still on medium-high, quickly sauté the bell peppers and onion until crisp-tender.
- Add in the drained pineapple and allow it to heat through, about one minute.
- Pour in the sweet chili sauce and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to simmer just another minute or so until heated through.
- Serve immediately by placing steamed rice in a bowl. Top with diced chicken and a spoonful of the sweet fire mixture.