Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken

This Catalina Chicken recipe is so flavorful and crazy easy.  It only requires chicken and 3 other ingredients for a really flavorful sweet and sour sauce.  We love this served over rice with a veggie on the side. And right now I need easy.

Since we’re keepin’ it real around here this week, let me give you a little peek into my life right now.  Remember when I showed you my office last week?

Well here’s the view out my master bedroom:

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_moving mess bedroom

And my super stylish entry (I swear there’s not a body in that bag.)

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_moving mess boxes

Annnnd don’t forget the kitchen.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_moving mess dining room

We’re moving.  Well, in the process of moving.  And life is chaotic.  The other day my 4 year old actually said, “Hey Mom, weeemember the time you made us chicken wif sawad for dinner?  Can you do that again?”  Um yeah.  We’ve been in a cereal/pizza/fend for yourself kind of mode for a couple of weeks now.   Which happens to be the perfect time to pull out some of the crazy-easy-totally-not-fancy-but-hot-yummy-and-homemade recipes I like.  The kind of recipes we don’t always post on our blog because the foodies out there tell us they’re not foodie enough.  Luckily we’ve never claimed to be fancy-foodies.  We’re realists.  So here’s a realist recipe.  It’s one of those old-school iconic chicken dishes that’s been around forever.  And yes, it uses pretty much all pre-packaged store-bought ingredients, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need!  I have bunch of recipes like this up my sleeve so you may get a few more in coming weeks as I try to pack my life up, unpack it again, and try to not live completely off of Happy Meals.

For this you’ll only need a few basic pantry items.  I always keep this stuff around because it will last forever in the pantry and then it’s always available when I need a quick, last-minute meal.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_ingredients

Apricot jam is pretty standard, but I use Apricot-Pineapple a lot, and even peach.   They’re all great.  There’s another version that uses a can of whole cranberry sauce instead, and that one is good too.  Catalina or Russian dressing works here, too and you can make this with pretty much any cut of chicken you want.  See?  Easy peasy!

Start by putting your jam in a bowl and adding the Catalina dressing.  If your jam is particularly jamm-y, it helps to heat it up a little in the microwave to make it easier to stir.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_dressing

Most recipes don’t call for this next ingredient, but I always add a little apple cider vinegar to cut the sweetness and balance the flavors.  Just a half teaspoon does it.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_apple cider vinegar

Next bust open that packet of soup mix.  You’re not making soup- just using the dry mix here.  Add half of it to the sauce (that’s about 1 1/2 tablespoons, but you can just eyeball it.)

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_soup mix

This is also something I do a little different.  I use the remaining half of the soup mix to season the chicken itself.  You can definitely just throw all of the ingredients in a pan and pop it in the oven like I know a lot of people do, but I find that seasoning the chicken pieces, and then searing them in a hot pan first develops flavor, adds depth, and results in juicier chicken and a thicker sauce.  So just just sprinkle the rest of the soup mix on your chicken and rub it in with your hands to evenly coat.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_chicken

If you’re using really large chicken breasts like I am, you might want to just cut them in half for easier cooking and serving.

Heat up a large skillet, dutch oven, or other oven-proof pan.  When it’s nice and hot, drizzle in a little olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom.  Place your chicken pieces in the pan and sear them for 2 minutes on each side, they should be slightly golden brown.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_cooked chicken


If you’re using an oven-safe pot already, just pour the sauce on top and spread it out.  Otherwise, you can transfer your chicken pieces to a baking dish and pour the sauce on there.  If you have little brown bits on your skillet, I’d pour some of the sauce in there and heat it to a simmer while scraping those bits off and add those to the baking dish too.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_sauce

Depending on what type of chicken pieces you’re using, baking time will vary.  The very best method of baking chicken is to own a good meat thermometer.  Then you’ll always end up with perfectly cooked meat.  Cook until the thickest portion reaches 165 degrees.  For boneless, skinless breasts it will probably only take about 20-30 minutes.

When you take it out of the oven, let it cool for 10-15 minutes and then serve chicken, ladled with sauce, over hot white rice.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_served

The sauce will be substantially thinner than when you poured it on top (and will thicken the longer it sits)  If you want some of those bits of fruit and onion, just use a slotted spoon and spoon it on top.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_prepared

It kind of tastes like a sweet and sour sauce- or my husband is always reminded of Hawaiian food, like Huli Huli Chicken.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_ready to eat

I’m telling you, there’s nothing like a great sauce spooned over hot white rice- one of my favorite comfort foods!

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_our best bites

Lastly, if you’re stuck in cold, chilly weather and want to dream of tropical paradise (like this)

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_tropical paradise


Sea Cuisine is featuring some of my work on the Seafood Spot Blog today!

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_beach

This past June, my husband and I headed to the insanely gorgeous island of Anguilla, to capture photographs and write articles about the amazing food there.

Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_seaside dining


Click over to see photos of our trip, and read about some of the adventurous eating I did!


Easy Sweet and Sour Catalina Chicken_exotic seafood

woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Just like everyone else I make a version of this recipe too! (And while I try and avoid prepackaged foods as much as possible, I have several ‘comfort’ meals like this that I keep the ingredients on hand for life’s crazy moments and I don’t want take out or cold cereal for dinner.) A few things I change is that I make mine in the crock-pot and always add a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies during the last 45 minutes of cooking. Served over rice and it is a perfect comfort meal!

  2. I have used this recipe many times using either a pint of apricot puree or a can of whole berry cranberry sauce. I use french dressing with the apricot puree and catalina dressing with the cranberry sauce. Such an easy, yummy recipe!

  3. What would be a good substitute(s) for the onion soup mix? The only kind I can get around here has msg in it, and I’m allergic to it.

    1. Dry Onion Soup Mix
      2/3 cup dried, minced onion
      3 tsp parsley flakes
      2 tsp onion powder
      2 tsp turmeric
      1 tsp celery salt
      1 tsp sea salt
      1 tsp sugar
      1/2 tsp ground pepper
      Mix all ingredients in a jar. Shake. Store in a cool dry place. One tablespoon equals one packet dry onion soup mix:)

  4. This looks delicious and is totally my kind of go-to-I’ve-worked-all-day-and-its-already-dinnertime-whaa? kinda recipe 🙂 LOVE YOU GUYS!

  5. These are my favorite kind of recipes…REAL & EASY!!:) Thanks and good luck moving!:)

  6. I forgot about this great recipe! Thanks for the reminder. I agree 100% – it is yummy!

  7. “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson

    Oh and, please keep the easy peasy meals coming! 🙂

  8. I love the recipe! I will be trying it soon. The suggestion to use cranberry jelly sounds interesting. I may just have to sub that sometime. Also, I love the decor at your house. Perhaps you could start a new decorating trend called cubism. 🙂

  9. I like the extra tricks you used in this recipe (the vinegar and rubbing the soup mix into the chicken). I’ll bet that makes it just that much better than the way I’ve always done this recipe. You’re such a thinker. Good luck packing and unpacking. I don’t envy you that job, but you will have a gorgeous kitchen when all is said and done. Just keep that in mind!

  10. This looks delightful! I wouldn’t change a thing. I actually prefer my wannabe Le Cruset (read: $30 Sam’s knockoff) over a crockpot. A) it’s faster and 2) there’s no substitute for a nice sear. And can I just say that the fact that you took pictures AND added green stuff while moving is AMAZING!
    And as far as nasty emails go, my dad is in charge of all of the web communications for a major university and gets terrible emails all the time. He says people think they’re just writing to a computer and no one will ever read it. Kind of like yelling at drivers from your car. I always try to say things online that I would say in person. It’s just common courtesy. Maybe not so common, but it should be!

    1. You are exactly right Erika- people love the anonymity of a computer screen and say things I’m sure they wouldn’t say if they were standing face to face with someone.

      And you totally crack me up- the “green stuff” was all I could find in my fridge- and it’s just plain, raw kale. Not something I would actually eat like that, but hey- it looked pretty! haha

  11. Pretty sure I need to make this tonight…it’s already been “one of those days” and it’s not even 11am…good grief.

  12. Yeah…um, those are not ingredients that I have just any day in my kitchen. Except the soup mix. Never even heard of Catalina dressing (I know, what’s wrong with me?!). The only jam we EVER have around here is my homemade strawberry/raspberry jam. It’s seriously the only kind my family will eat. I love it all but my family does not. Not sure how to tweak this recipe to accommodate our tastes. Sounds good though!

    1. Ashley, “pantry ingredients” just means that they’re things that can keep in your pantry indefinitely- not that everyone has them all of the time 🙂 I promise your family won’t even know what flavor of jam is in there- you might be surprised!

  13. Thanks for the great recipe. I cannot wait to try this. I need some quick go-to meals right now. My husband’s parents and sister were all involved in a bad auto accident last week and have a long recovery ahead. Being able to serve a home-cooked meal makes hard visits and busy days a bit more bearable. And I’m pretty sure my 3 year old will eat this up. 😉

    1. I’d just skip the browning step and throw the raw chicken and sauce into a pan together to freeze. You’ll have to eyeball baking time, and the sauce will be a bit thinner, but it should work fine!

  14. you wrote:
    “Also, my Mom taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. So then, let’s leave it at that!”

    Such an eyeroll! Why don’t you do what loads of other non-politically based bloggers do and just skip the mention since we’re all sick of it anyway? You have a great site about food, you don’t need the passive aggressive political mini-mentions.

    1. Oh now Serafina, calm down! Their blog as ALWAYS been about way more than food. It’s been about their LIVES, so a brief, unemotional mention of her thoughts about it all was totally appropriate. Plus, I don’t care WHAT their opinions are, I’ll take any chance they give me to get to know a little more about their personalities, life, and thoughts. Remember to breathe, calm down, and laugh a little!

    2. Agreed, Serafina.
      If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t mention that you have nothing nice to say about something you claim to not want to give an opinion on.

      Some of us were unhappy last night. Some of us were unhappy 8 years ago.

      And don’t calm down. That’s what “nice girls” do…and nice girls don’t make things happen. Keep on Keeping On

      1. Oh ladies…I honestly and truly meant that as a light-hearted comment and I think people may have read further into than was intended. I was writing my post as the election results came in and I was bummed out, that’s all! Half of the country was happy today and half (okay, obviously a little less than half, haha) were bummed out. The same way I was bummed out when my alma mater got beat by my hometown football team a few weeks ago, and how I was bummed when the A’s ended their run in the play-offs this year. It’s always disappointing when your team loses, but that’s how life works! I’m not the kind of person who thinks the world is ending just because the other party won a political race, I love my country and will do everything to support whoever leads it, including the current President. My comment was merely a light-hearted way of saying it stinks being on the losing team, that’s all!

        1. I’ve got to be honest, Sara – I agreed with Serafina when I read her post. If you’re not going to mention something, then why say you’re not going to mention it and then make sure you make your opinion clear, and try to pass it off as a non-mention? But your explanation is gracious and makes perfect sense. I still love you ladies and will continue to read your posts religiously every M/W/F as I have every single week for two years! And I would have, even if you didn’t post your above comment 🙂 Another reader posted a quote from Thomas Jefferson, and I couldn’t agree more!

  15. I’m so glad that people were kind. My son, who was severely Autistic, drown when he was 7. It was an accident. He was an excellent escape artist. We were constantly trying to keep him safe. With 4 other children, it was difficult, without making our home a prison. He was able to slip out of the house. I realized it just moments later, but he had disappeared and ended up in a lake several blocks from our house. It was a horrible time. Its still hard. What made it worse was the news attention. It was in the local news. The paper (which I still now refuse to subscribe to) wrote an article slanted to sound as if it were our fault. Because of that, people wrote in to the paper saying horrible, nasty things about my husband and I – calling for us to be prosecuted and saying how we deserved this, etc. It was hard enough for me not to blame myself (I still do), without strangers pointing a finger too. Accidents happen to the best of parents. I’m so happy that this turned out well, with a happy ending. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone in the world.

    1. I’m so sorry Carinne – no one should ever have to go through something like that. You’re family will be in my thoughts and prayers. I’m so sorry.

    2. Oh. My. God. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. How some people can be so mean and hurtful to others is beyond me. Keep him in your heart and know that it wasn’t your fault. God needed him back. Who are we to question God? Blessings to you and your family.

      1. Don’t the Gees and the Jones know each other? My husband has mentioned something to that effect. Thanks for the condolences. It was 5+ years ago, but since that experience I’m pretty sensitive to people saying judgmental things like this – especially when they couldn’t possibly know all the facts. But, I’ve also come to understand that people point fingers and say horrible things out of fear (especially when it comes to issues with children). If they can find a way to blame you…if there is a reason why you’re a fault, then they are safe. it wouldn’t possibly happen to them, because they would be ‘smarter’ or ‘more careful’ or not as “negligent’. Judgmental comments are part of human nature and they are made out of fear. So, I also try to be understanding of that as well. I’m SO happy that your son is safe. Horrible, awful, miserable, life-changing experience to loose a child. No one should ever have to deal with it.

        1. They do–the kids went to school/church together in Ohio, I believe. And then when I lived at Monticello, you guys were the managers, and then we became the managers after Peter and Stephanie, so I know Sam and Kendall talked a few times.

          1. Oh….I didn’t know you were at Monticello during our ‘reign’ 🙂 Were you in Red Brick or White Brick? I remember Peter working for Kendall and that they took over managing after we left. I didn’t know you two took over after them. Interesting…Good ol’ Monticello. Lots of good memories…… Met my husband there, 3 of my kids got their start there. 🙂

          2. I lived in White Brick the last year you guys were the managers (Karl and Debbie were in my ward). In fact, that’s where Sam and I met. Lots of memories from managing, good (we had our first two kids there) and not-so-good (college students can be stress-inducing idiots).

          3. Yes….White Brick definitely had its share of stress-inducing idiot college students. I got real tired of them waking us up at midnight because they were locked out of their apartment. Or keeping us up at night listening to them flirts in the quad outside our bedroom window. 🙂 Its nice that to have figured out who you were…..exactly. Kendall’s sister Karen sent me your cookbook last year for Christmas. I’ve enjoyed it. I really like to cook – most of the time. I love trying new recipes (I get so tired of the same old ones) and I love love love cookbooks. Yours is a nice combination of nicer recipes, but not so fancy. I don’t feel like doing Giada de Laurentis every night and my kids don’t like most of that anyway. And, I get tired of some of the ‘not as fancy’ cook books being such junk cooking. I loved your Natchitoches Meat Pies (loved the food when we were in New Orleans a few years ago). Your ribs are really good. I’ve had so many compliments on your mango-pineapple sorbet. I really love your pie crust recipe too. Oh…and I LOVE the lime-cilantro rice. Unfortunately, my kids hate rice and so I end up eating it all myself. Same with your mac nut/lime/white chocolate cookies I tried. I loved them, but my heathen kids (and husband) think dessert HAS to be chocolate and no one would eat very many. I was forced to eat the whole double batch. 🙂 Oh well… its a hard job, but someone has to do it. 🙂 So….thanks for the recipes! I’m so happy again, that your son is well!!!!

  16. This is awesome in the oven, done in a skillet or in the crockpot. A family favorite. Boneless skinless thighs are great with this in the crockpot too! We have also done it with bone in and skin on, and then finished it on the bbq to get some grill marks. Thanks for the reminder of this recipe.

  17. I would also love some more easy peasy recipes. I am out of the house 3 nights a week at dance classes for my kids and am always in a rush to make dinner.

  18. I ALWAYS make this in the crock pot. I prefer the Russian over the Catalina every time as well. And to cut the sugar, I use the Simpy Fruit apricot jam. I also omit the vinegar. My family LOVES this. This also tastes great with brown rice.

  19. I am going to second Juliann’s request. More easy peasy is good. Inexpensive is good too, and most of the ingredients for this either are on sale or have coupons, or both.

    Having moved 19 times, with one more looming ahead, my heart goes out to you and your family. I hope things go smoothly, nothing is broken, nothing is lost, and you settle into your new home in record time!!

    Many thanks for a wonderful blog.

  20. This is one of my go-to meals! My grandmother made it for years and then gave me the “recipe”. I use peach preserves, Wishbone Russian dressing, and onion soup mix. We serve it over Rice-a-Roni chicken flavored rice. I’m looking forward to trying your version!

  21. Please bring on the easy peasy recipes! I’m stuck in a cooking rut and have been in the mood to only try out new recipes if they are simple.

  22. Everyone needs some good simple but easy meals! This sounds great. I will have to give it a try! It doesn’t bother me to have more recipes like this, so make things easier on yourself and post some more recipes like this 🙂 Happy moving!

  23. I’ve also made this with cranberry sauce instead of jam. Love simple meals that please everyone!

  24. This sounds awesome. I will be trying and then probably adding it to the recipe collection for my college daughter and nephews. Not too many ingredients to have to have on hand. My daughter likes recipes that are 5 ingredients or less.

    Good luck with the moving. By the way, realist recipes are a necessity and less stressful to all.

  25. Do you think this is too sugar based to go in the crock pot? Either way it looks fabulous!

    1. Lots of people make this in the crock pot- My problem with the crock pot here is that it just cooks for way too long. I really dislike the texture of chicken breasts in the crock pot because they usually end up dry and overcooked. I think the sugar content is fine- if you cook it on low, since the sauce thins out quite a bit. If you cook it in the crock pot I’d use bone-in chicken breasts, or thighs for best results.

      1. I do it in the crock pot and put the chicken in frozen (boneless skinless breasts). Four hours on low and it isn’t dry. That was my work around because I hate cry chicken but love this easy meal.

    2. Actually there is almost the exact same recipe in my crock pot cookbook. I cook it all the time. It is a family favorite. Just plop in the chicken…4 breasts or if you want it a bit more moist…do 2 breasts and 2-3 thighs. Pour the sauce over it. Cook for 3-4 hours on low. We shred it and serve it over rice.. It has never seemed too dry.

      1. my sister makes this in the crockpot, too. i haven’t tried it yet, but now that i have the OBB seal of approval on the sauce… 😉

        1. I make this in the crockpot all the time with frozen chicken breasts. I throw everything in frozen and cook on low a couple hours. Just don’t overcook it so it’s not dry. My kids call it pink chicken.

  26. I love that you said “fend for yourself”! My family used that phrase growing up – my husband had not heard it before but quickly adopted it! (We’ll also call it a “fend night”)

    It’s a sad fact that if you get popular, you are also going to get hate mail. I’ve seen it happen so often I am not surprised! You can’t take it personally because it is going to happen no matter how sweet & lovely you are, but I know they can be hard to ignore – one nasty letter can easily outshine hundreds of gushing fans.

  27. This looks very yummy! I haven’t seen Catalina Dressing in Australia, so I may have to google a recipe to make that bit.

  28. This is one of my favorite easy meals! Easy because I’ve never browned the chicken and it only has 3-4 ingredients!!! I really need to try it with the apricot jam. My cousin that gave me the recipe hates apricot jam, so she just always added a bit of sugar. Oh, and we always used Russian dressing. Um, OK, guess I haven’t really made this recipe after all?? lol Anyway, it is yummy and so super easy!!

    1. Haha. I have a friend who always says things like, “Oh my gosh I have that EXACT same sweater! Except mine is purple not green and has buttons, and short sleeves and isn’t sweater material.” hahaha! Seriously though, I know what you’re saying, same type of recipe!