Sweet And Tangy Bourbon Chicken Recipe

If you have a hankering for weeknight takeout, put that Chinese restaurant menu down and try this delicious and surprisingly easy sweet and tangy bourbon chicken recipe from food stylist and recipe developer Michelle McGlinn. This is a mildly spicy, sticky, and sweet fusion recipe that comes together in under half an hour and tastes absolutely delicious.

Bourbon chicken originally got its name from Bourbon Street New Orleans' French Quarter and didn't originally contain bourbon whiskey. While most versions of this recipe stick with a strictly Chinese takeout interpretation, McGlinn added smoked paprika and cayenne pepper as a nod to the dish's Louisiana roots. "My favorite thing about this particular recipe [are] the Cajun spices — they give it a pleasant, fiery heat that goes really well with the otherwise sweet and sticky sauce," McGlinn says. "You can add more if you prefer hotter food, but the recipe is designed to be just above mild."

Gather your ingredients for sweet and tangy bourbon chicken

For this recipe, you'll need chicken tenderloins or breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes. You'll also need soy sauce, brown sugar, ground ginger, cornstarch, a sliced green onion, salt, honey, a Spanish onion, cooking oil, and rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. And of course, you'll need those special ingredients, the cayenne pepper and paprika. "I added cayenne and paprika to give the chicken a spicy Cajun flair under the sweet bourbon sauce," McGlinn says. "You can use regular paprika, but I highly recommend using smoked paprika for a smoky flavor. It pairs so well with bourbon!"

As this is bourbon chicken, you'll also definitely need some bourbon. McGlinn uses Benchmark bourbon for this recipe and recommends using an affordable bourbon that you like to make this dish, saying, "I would not use an expensive bourbon to cook with as you will be using quite a bit and imparting just the flavor — not the alcohol content — so it is wise to pick something you enjoy taste-wise for a good price."

Prepare the chicken and sauce

Toss the chicken pieces with salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Set the chicken aside. 

Whisk the soy sauce, brown sugar, ground ginger, vinegar, and honey until they are fully combined. Set the soy sauce mixture aside. 

Whisk the cornstarch and water together until they are fully combined, and set the cornstarch slurry aside as well.

Start cooking your chicken

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat and add the onions to the wok. Cook the onions until they begin to soften, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the chicken to the wok and toss occasionally until it's cooked through. 

Remove the chicken from the wok with a slotted spatula, making sure to leave as much onion and garlic in the wok as possible. Set the chicken aside.

Make the bourbon sauce

Reduce the heat in the wok to a simmer and add the bourbon. Deglaze the wok with alcohol, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the wok. If it feels a little strange having to deglaze around diced onion, McGlinn says that there's a reason to leave the onions behind. "Keeping the onion pieces in the wok while you reduce the bourbon quick-caramelizes them using the sugars from the bourbon," she says.

Once the liquid has reduced by half, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well. Then, add the cornstarch slurry and bring the pan to a simmer.

Stir the sauce as it continues to thicken — the sauce will thicken quickly once the cornstarch is heated through. Once that happens, remove the wok from the heat and toss the chicken into the sauce. Be careful, though — according to McGlinn, it's easy to make this sauce too thick. "As soon as you notice the sauce thickening, remove the wok from the heat and toss in the chicken — it will all come together in the wok's residual heat," she says. "You'll know when it is thickening because it will begin to bubble and 'tighten' into a thick sauce."

Serve and store your bourbon chicken

That's it! Your bourbon chicken is done and ready to eat. McGlinn suggests serving it topped with sliced green onion and with a side of rice, but you could also try topping it with red pepper flakes or sesame seeds. "You can keep this for 3-5 days in the refrigerator and you can store it in the same container as the rice! It makes for a great meal prep option," McGlinn says. This bourbon chicken should last, in an airtight container without rice, for up to 6 months in the freezer.

Sweet And Tangy Bourbon Chicken Recipe
4.8 from 12 ratings
When you're craving a mildly spicy, sweet and tangy recipe that tastes like Chinese takeout, you have to try this easy recipe for bourbon chicken.
Prep Time
10
minutes
Cook Time
15
minutes
Servings
2
servings
bourbon chicken on a plate
Total time: 25 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicken tenderloins or breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • ½ Spanish onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon water
Optional Ingredients
  • green onion, sliced, for topping
Directions
  1. Toss the chicken pieces with salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Set the chicken aside while preparing the sauce.
  2. Whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, ground ginger, vinegar, and honey until well-combined with no clumps. Set the soy sauce mixture aside.
  3. Whisk the cornstarch and water together until fully combined, and set the cornstarch slurry aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them until they begin to soften, or about 2 minutes. Add the garlic to the wok and cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add the chicken, tossing it occasionally until it is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Remove the chicken from the wok with a slotted spoon or spatula, leaving behind as much of the onions and garlic as possible. Turn the heat to low and deglaze the skillet with bourbon, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the wok. Reduce the liquid in the wok by half. The onions will caramelize to a golden brown.
  6. Once the liquid has reduced, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well. Add the cornstarch slurry; if the slurry has settled, add a splash of water and whisk to recombine. Mix the cornstarch slurry into the bourbon sauce and bring to a simmer.
  7. Heat the sauce, stirring often, until it begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. The sauce will thicken quickly once the cornstarch is heated through. Once that happens, remove the pan from the heat and toss the chicken into the sauce.
  8. To serve, top with sliced green onion, if desired.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 902
Total Fat 50.1 g
Saturated Fat 8.5 g
Trans Fat 0.1 g
Cholesterol 93.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 60.1 g
Dietary Fiber 3.8 g
Total Sugars 18.5 g
Sodium 1,909.4 mg
Protein 35.6 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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