How To Make Bourbon Chicken

updated Jan 22, 2021
How to Make Bourbon Chicken

A step-by-step recipe for making sticky-sweet Bourbon chicken at home.

Serves6

Prep20 minutes

Cook12 minutes to 18 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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bourbon chicken sits over rice in a white circular bowl with forks on a napkin near it
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingemanl; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Is there anything better than sticky-sweet bourbon chicken? I mean, you really can’t go wrong with a sauce made of brown sugar, ginger, soy sauce, and, of course, bourbon. Although its exact origins are unclear (some claim the name comes from Kentucky, and others from Bourbon Street in New Orleans), the dish is a fusion of Cajun and Chinese cooking and is often served at Chinese takeout restaurants.

This how-to will guide you through making delicious, sticky, sweet-and-savory bourbon chicken in next to no time. Let’s get started.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingemanl; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Is There Bourbon in Bourbon Chicken?

Yes! The chicken is marinated in a flavorful mix of apple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and bourbon, which adds heat and flavor. The bourbon also helps tenderize the chicken and brings the sauce together.

As the sauce cooks, most of the bourbon cooks out and evaporates, leaving behind only a marginal amount. But if you want to make make a booze-free sauce, you can replace the bourbon with apple juice. Just increase the amount of apple juice to one cup and keep everything else the same.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingemanl; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Secret to the Best Bourbon Chicken? A Scorching Hot Pan.

This recipe is cooked in a flat-bottomed wok or frying pan set over high heat. (You’ll know your pan is ready for cooking when small wisps of smoke start to form, which will take one to two minutes). The high heat gives the chicken its crunchy, golden sear and signature savory, smoky flavor, and also keeps the chicken from sticking.

As for the best type of chicken to use, we prefer thighs (although we’ve included an option for breasts, too). Thighs are more forgiving and remain tender and moist even if you overcook them. If you can’t find them in your grocery store, ask the butcher counter and they can usually grab them for you.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingemanl; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell
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Here's how to make Bourbon chicken.

How to Make Bourbon Chicken

A step-by-step recipe for making sticky-sweet Bourbon chicken at home.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 12 minutes to 18 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 (2-inch) piece

    fresh ginger

  • 1/2 cup

    apple juice

  • 1/4 cup

    low-sodium tamari or soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup

    bourbon

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light or dark brown sugar

  • 3 tablespoons

    rice vinegar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts

  • 2 tablespoons

    cornstarch, divided

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3 tablespoons

    canola or vegetable oil

  • 3 tablespoons

    cold water

  • 2

    large scallions

  • Steamed rice, for serving (optional)

Equipment

  • Mixing bowls

  • Whisk

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Knife and cutting board

  • Large nonstick frying pan or flat-bottomed wok

  • Spatula or wooden spoon

Instructions

  1. Make the sauce. Prepare the following, adding them all to a medium bowl: Mince 3 garlic cloves. Peel and mince a 2-inch piece of ginger until you have 1 tablespoon. Add 1/2 cup apple juice, 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1/4 cup bourbon, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved.

  2. Coat the chicken in cornstarch. Cut 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts into 1-inch chunks, discarding any large pieces of fat, and place in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and toss until evenly coated.

  3. Brown the chicken. Heat a flat-bottomed wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil and the chicken and spread into an even layer. (It’s ok if some of the chicken is not touching the bottom of the pan.) Let cook undisturbed until golden-brown and seared on the bottom, 5 to 7 minutes.

  4. Simmer in the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and add the sauce mixture. Stir to thoroughly coat the chicken and let simmer until reduced by half, 6 to 9 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl, and thinly slice 2 large scallions.

  5. Simmer and thicken the sauce. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir until fully dissolved and combined. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce thickens, is glossy, and coats the chicken, 1 to 2 minutes.

  6. Garnish and serve over rice. Serve the chicken over rice if desired and garnish with the sliced scallions.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.