ULTIMATE RECIPE GUIDE
The exact origins of bourbon chicken are unknown. Some people assume bourbon chicken earned its name because bourbon is one of the dish's key ingredients. However, many food historians believe the name comes from New Orleans' Bourbon Street...
The dish might have originated in a Chinese eatery located somewhere on the famed road. Today, bourbon chicken is most commonly associated with Chinese and Cajun-themed eateries, especially at fast-food outlets in malls.
The first bourbon chicken likely had no bourbon in it at all. Bourbon is not a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. That's why many believe the dish name is derived from the restaurant's location on Bourbon Street. While bourbon chicken has changed over the years, this dish is still a popular menu item at mall food courts and Chinese takeout restaurants all over the country. Although it's often classified as a blend of Asian and Cajun cuisines, some food writers describe bourbon chicken as something distinctly American that infuses multiple cultures' cuisines.
Typical Ingredients in Bourbon Chicken Sauce
Ingredients you might find in a bourbon chicken sauce include:
- Soy sauce.
- Brown sugar.
Some recipes also include garlic and chicken stock. For an extra tang, many cooks recommend adding apple cider vinegar. Other ingredients might include pantry items such as Worcestershire sauce, molasses, and lemon juice.
As the dish has evolved over the years, cooks have come up with their own takes on the best ingredients for bourbon chicken. You can find many recipes online and variations in restaurants or food courts.
Bourbon chicken sauce is typically sweet with a sticky consistency. If you use bourbon in your sauce, some of the alcohol will cook off, and you'll be left with a little bourbon flavor.
If you plan to make this dish for children, the residual alcohol content is something to consider. You would need to cook the sauce for at least three hours to remove all traces of alcohol. Cooking for one hour would leave around 25% of the alcohol. The bourbon chicken you order for takeout and in food courts typically has no bourbon added to the sauce.
Flavor of Bourbon Chicken Sauce
The sauce's flavor will differ based on the recipe used or the restaurant you visit. However, you should always pick up on sweet, salty, rich, spicy, and tart flavors in a good bourbon chicken. Some claim the sauce tastes like it has a hint of apple juice.
Drunken Chicken vs. Bourbon Chicken
Some people are curious whether bourbon chicken might've evolved from drunken chicken. Drunken chicken originated in China's Zhejiang Province and differs greatly from bourbon chicken. One of the few similarities is the use of alcohol in the marinating process. Drunken chicken typically includes Shaoxing wine, an amber-colored rice wine with a fragrant and mildly sweet nose.
The most famous drunken chicken comes from Shaoxing. To prepare drunken chicken, you start by boiling the chicken with ginger and green onion. Next, you soak it in a marinade of chicken broth and copious amounts of Shaoxing wine. Some regional variations suggest marinating it in a distilled liquor, such as whiskey. The consistency, however, is different than that of bourbon chicken. A key feature of drunken chicken is a layer of liquor-flavored gelatin that results from chilling the dish and then serving it cold. Bourbon chicken has a thick sauce that's sweet, sticky, and served hot.
Benefits of Making Bourbon Chicken at Home
While bourbon chicken is available at many restaurants, it's also a simple recipe to make yourself. It only takes a few minutes of preparation and is typically healthier than fast-food versions. Commercial preparation of bourbon chicken likely includes preservatives and additives. Plus, it probably won't have any bourbon.
Tips for Making Bourbon Chicken
Bourbon chicken is an easy dish to replicate at home. Follow these helpful tips to ensure your version has the most flavor possible:
- The marinating process is one of the most important steps, because it's what imparts the exquisite taste and juiciness of the chicken.
- Use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts for a juicier and more tender dish.
- Be sure your heat is on a high setting. You want to sear the chicken so you'll get that fried flavor without deep-frying it.
- If you use bourbon, remember it won't evaporate within 10 or 15 minutes of cooking.
- Cooking in a wok is ideal, but don't forget to use the sauce to deglaze the sides of the wok and maximize the flavor.
- If you're serving steamed white rice, be sure to make plenty. The rice is perfect for soaking up all that extra bourbon chicken sauce.
Side Dishes to Serve with Bourbon Chicken
Steamed white rice might be one of this dish's most popular accompaniments, but it's not the only option. You might encounter more Cajun-inspired dishes if you order your bourbon chicken from a Southern-style restaurant, for instance. Great side dishes to pair with bourbon chicken include:
- Creamy mac and cheese.
- Steamed broccoli.
- Roasted Brussels sprouts.
- Mashed potatoes.
- Corn fritters.
- Fried rice.
- Baked beans.
Which Bourbon to Use in Bourbon Chicken
Choosing the right bourbon to use in your recipe is essential. You want something that will impart flavor into the sauce without overpowering it. We recommend using our award-winning sherry-cask-finished bourbon, Dareringer. This bourbon is a one-of-a-kind creation finished in handmade Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
Expect aromas of sherry with traces of cherry and caramel. On the palate, you'll get notes of raisins, cherries, and currants, with hints of vanilla and almond. The finish is light with a touch of dryness — perfect for bourbon chicken.