With tender pieces of chicken stir-fried in a sweet and tangy sauce over a bed of fluffy steamed rice, no one complains when sticky Bourbon Chicken is on the menu! This easy recipe is a lighter twist on the original New Orleans Chinese-American recipe.
Traditional Bourbon chicken is a stir-fry-style recipe that features pieces of fried chicken thighs in a sweet, sticky, and savory brown sugar bourbon glaze.
While the original recipe originated in New Orleans, these days, you can find Bourbon chicken well beyond the French Quarter.
It’s a frequent menu item at shopping mall food courts and at many Chinese takeout restaurants around the country.
And with this easy Bourbon chicken recipe, you can bring all of its deliciousness into your very own kitchen.
5 Star Review
“This was absolutely the best Bourbon chicken I’ve ever had. It’s better than take-out.”— Becky —
Why Is It Called Bourbon Chicken?
Bourbon chicken is named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans (that’s also why the “Bourbon” in Bourbon chicken” is capitalized).
- As the story goes, the dish was popularized in a Chinese restaurant that was located on Bourbon Street.
Bourbon chicken does actually have alcohol in the sauce, though most of it cooks off.
- In keeping with the name, bourbon is used in Bourbon chicken. It helps balance the sauce and keeps it from tasting too sweet.
About this Bourbon Chicken Recipe
The food court Bourbon chicken recipe you find in shopping malls is battered and fried, and the sauce contains a hefty amount of brown sugar and other mystery sweeteners.
- I wanted to create Bourbon chicken like the food court in taste and spirit, but I wanted mine to be lightly pan-fried instead of deep-fried.
- I also wanted to reduce the amount of sugar in the original Louisiana Bourbon chicken sauce.
- For example: many authentic Bourbon chicken mall recipes call for 1 full cup of brown sugar or more, which to me is more akin to dessert.
With the help of my reader-favorite Crockpot Bourbon Chicken recipe as a starting point, I arrived at today’s lighter Bourbon chicken recipe.
The sauce is thick and sticky (one of the best parts of this dish!), the meat is fork tender and juicy, and it has enough sweetness to satisfy that food court craving without going overboard.
How to Make Bourbon Chicken
The Bourbon chicken sauce uses sweet, salty, and acidic ingredients to achieve the right balance.
Typically, it is served with rice, though you can certainly turn it into lettuce wraps, mix in sautéed vegetables or Roasted Broccoli (what we usually do), or serve it with a crisp salad, like this Asian Cabbage Salad.
- Chicken Thighs. Bourbon chicken thighs are mouthwateringly juicy! The thigh meat stays tender, is more flavorful, and won’t dry out during cooking.
- Cornstarch. Cornstarch helps the outside of the chicken brown to mimic the deep-fried original, and it thickens the sauce.
- Soy Sauce. Gives the sauce a boost of umami flavor.
- Bourbon. This recipe’s namesake. While the flavor isn’t strong, it helps balance the sauce and is the secret to the BEST Bourbon chicken with authentic flavor.
- Maple Syrup. Helps make the sauce sweet, sticky, and delicious.
- Brown Sugar. A modest amount for additional sweetness. It also helps thicken the sauce.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Adds necessary acidity to the sauce mixture.
- Green Onions. Adds color, crunch, and a mild onion flavor. Perfect for a garnish.
Looking for some extra pizzaz? Toss in some sesame seeds for texture and red pepper flakes for a little kick!
- Stir the chicken and part of the cornstarch together.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk the sauce ingredients and remaining cornstarch together.
- Cook the chicken.
- Pour in the sauce and stir. Simmer for 2 to 4 minutes, then garnish with green onions. Serve with rice, and ENJOY!
- To Store. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm chicken in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cut the chicken and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Of course, leftovers are delicious served over a bed of rice or noodles, but they’re also tasty served in lettuce leaves (a spin on my beloved Lettuce Wraps).
What to Serve with Bourbon Chicken
While a side of steamed white or Instant Pot Brown Rice (or Cauliflower Fried Rice) is truly all this dish needs to feel complete, I often like to complete our takeout experience with one or more of these other tasty Asian-inspired side dishes or starters.
- Appetizer. Start your meal with a round of Asian Lettuce Wraps, Air Fryer Tofu, or Edamame Hummus.
- Salads. To incorporate some freshness, pair this healthy Bourbon chicken with this Asian Cucumber Salad, Asian Cabbage Salad, or Asian Noodle Salad.
- Vegetables. Looking for simple? Serve this Bourbon chicken with a side of Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus, or Air Fryer Cauliflower. All taste fantastic with the sweet bourbon sauce.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Liquid Measuring Cup. You can measure and mix ingredients in this glass measuring cup.
- Large Skillet. Perfect for making this recipe. Could even use a wok!
- Measuring Spoons. This recipe has lots of ingredients to measure, and these measuring spoons are up for the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most of the alcohol does cook out of the sauce, but I recommend avoiding the recipe if you are concerned about having any consumption whatsoever (pregnancy, abstaining, etc.).
While I’m partial to making this sauce with bourbon (I promise it’s worth it!), you could experiment with swapping the bourbon for 1/4 cup apple juice or chicken broth. It will have a slightly different flavor but should still be tasty.
If you have lots of leftover sauce (I’m jealous!) or simply want to make some on its own, you can use it in a variety of ways. I think it would be scrumptious tossed with Air Fryer Shrimp, Crispy Tofu, or drizzled over an Air Fryer Chicken Breast. Use it as a dipping sauce for Crispy Asian Chicken Tenders. For an easy side dish, toss it with some Roasted Brussels Sprouts.
It’s a little bit of both! Born in New Orleans at a Chinese restaurant, the dish is a hybrid that brings together the ingredients and cooking methods of both cuisines and cultures.
To make this recipe gluten free, you will want to opt for your favorite brand of tamari rather than traditional soy sauce. Also, despite many bourbons being distilled with wheat, barley, or rye, most are considered safe for people with celiac disease because of the distillation process. However, if you are particularly sensitive to gluten or have concerns, I recommend consulting with a physician before making this recipe with bourbon.
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free)
- 1/4 cup bourbon anything good enough to mix into a cocktail (Bulleit is my go-to)
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic minced (about 4 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch divided
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces (or boneless, skinless chicken breast)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil
- 1/3 cup chopped green onions plus additional for serving
- 2 cups prepared brown rice for serving
- Place the chicken in a medium bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons cornstarch over the top, then with a spoon, stir to evenly coat the chicken in the cornstarch.
- In a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup, stir together the soy sauce, bourbon, maple syrup, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch.
- In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat on the stove top. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, carefully add the chicken, breaking apart any pieces that stick together. Brown on all sides, stirring every so often, until the chicken is golden and cooked through.
- Add the bourbon sauce. Cooking, stirring often, until the sauce is glossy and thickened, 2 to 4 minutes (you'll still have plenty of extra sauce, ideal for spooning over the rice). Stir in the green onions. Serve hot over rice, with additional green onions sprinkled on top.
- Adapted from my Crockpot Bourbon Chicken.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm chicken in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze leftovers in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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