My favourite sweet & sour sauce is the McDonald’s variety. It comes in a little plastic tub with a bright green label, and it is a perfect match for McNuggets and McFries. (If you have not tried it with the fries, I recommend that you remedy this as soon as you can.)
Like most fast food sauces, this one is best suited to the food that it was engineered to accompany. The McDonald’s sweet & sour tastes a little off with, say, a Wendy’s nugget, and I don’t think a could eat a McNugget with a Jack in the Box sauce (though all fast food sauces are perfectly delicious with store-bought frozen french fries.)
That’s why, even though it’s my favourite fast food sauce, I don’t necessarily want to duplicate the McDonald’s sweet & sour. I think that particular condiment is best made in scaled up recipes, prepared in industrial vats. But I do think there are things we can learn from its ingredients list. Aside from high fructose corn syrup, which most people do not keep in their kitchens, the primary ingredient is apricot (and/or peach) puree, and that stuff makes an excellent sweet & sour base.
It is (obviously) the sweet component. The sauce gets its sour notes from pure white vinegar, and a hint of umami from soy sauce. Other than that, you have your usual vague, mass-produced food label stuff and some “sherry wine powder,” which I did not realise was a thing I could buy.
Anyway. I didn’t use this knowledge to make a dupe of the McSauce, but I did use it to make a very good sweet & sour that’s better suited to a homemade nuggets (or a dino nugget), and you can too. Start with a ratio of three parts apricot preserves to one part white vinegar, then taste and season as you see fit. I like to add the aforementioned soy sauce to mine — one teaspoon for every tablespoon of vinegar adds just enough salt and umami — but I never make the same sauce twice.
Pinches of garlic powder, white pepper, MSG, and paprika all have their charms, as do a few shakes of hot sauce. Once I get my hands on that sherry wine powder, I’ll add that too. You can whisk your sauce together, but I like to whirr mine with an immersion blender to break down any fruit chunks and thicken the sauce.
Play around with it, is what I’m saying — but keep the ratios of apricot and vinegar consistent and their flavours at the forefront. They are the sweet and the sour, after all. Masking them would be disrespectful.