Hard Cider Braised Chicken pairs tender chicken legs and apples with bacon, mustard, sage, and thyme for a comforting autumn dish.
We held on as long as we could here in NJ, but the 70-degree weather that has been fooling us into thinking it isn’t really a mere three and a half weeks until Thanksgiving, is gone. The past few days have brought rain, more rain, and a definite chill. Not the best weather for last night’s trick or treaters, but perfect for a pot of Hard Cider Braised Chicken. With fresh apples, thick-cut bacon, Dijon mustard, sage, and thyme, the aroma of this chicken cooking instantly warms you, even on the chilliest of nights.
Given my penchant for everything “apple” this time of year, I always find myself making at least one pot of Chicken or Pork à la Normande (Normandy-style) before Fall’s end. Served with a creamy Calvados sauce, it’s a delicious, warming dish that totally embodies the season. With the resurgence in popularity of hard (fermented) apple cider over the past few years, I’ve been itching to use it as the base for a Normandy-inspired braise. A few reservations lingered in the back of my mind: Would hard cider have a prominent enough apple flavor to be an effective braising liquid? Would it reduce well into a sauce without becoming too bittersweet? When in doubt, there’s nothing to do but pull out the Dutch oven and give it a try.
Give me a minute to control my jazz hands over this dish, because I can think of no other words to describe it than “The Best!” chicken I’ve tasted in a while. (Completely worthy of the capitalization and exclamation point.). The crisp, lightly tart flavor of the hard cider was enough to complement the bolder mustard, smoky bacon, and herbs, without being consumed by them. It was bright without being obnoxiously so. If I had a loaf of crusty artisan bread in the house, I wouldn’t have been able to keep myself from breaking off pieces and dipping it into the sauce. (I’m nothing if not honest.) It was that good.
I served the chicken with lightly-buttered egg noodles, but a simple mashed potato or roasted potato wedges would also be delicious. If you wanted to keep this a one-pot meal, the chicken and apples are definitely filling enough to be eaten on their own (and, naturally gluten-free). With a comforting Fall dinner such as this on the table, you just might find yourself embracing the sudden arrival of “coat weather.” I know I am!
Need a refresher on apple varieties? Check out this visual guide from Epicurious.
Hard Cider Braised Chicken
- 3 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks (about 4 of each)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges*
- 2 large shallots, about 1/2 cup, chopped
- 3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 cups hard apple cider**
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
- 1 large sprig fresh sage, (about 5 leaves)
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (about 1 tablespoon leaves)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Season chicken well with salt and pepper on both sides. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat vegetable oil until just smoking. Add chicken, starting with the skin side down, and brown 5 minutes per side until golden. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Add apple wedges and sauté over medium-high heat until just beginning to brown around the edges, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add shallots and bacon to the pan and cook 3-5 minutes, until the fat is rendered from the bacon and the shallots are soft.
Slowly add hard cider, whisking to release the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Whisk in Dijon and stone ground mustards, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Add chicken, sage, and thyme to the liquid. Cover the Dutch oven and bake for 25 minutes.
Add apples to the Dutch oven. Re-cover and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is very tender.
Remove chicken and apples from the Dutch oven and tent with foil. Discard sage and thyme sprigs from the braising liquid. Return Dutch oven to the stove and bring liquid to a simmer. Whisk in heavy cream and simmer on medium-low until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over the chicken and apples and serve with egg noodles or potatoes, if desired.
*Apple variety can vary here based on your personal sweetness preferences and availability. I had Honeycrisp apples to use up, which aren't usually ideal for braising, but they turned out out well. A slightly tarter Rome or Jonagold would also be delicious.
**For best results, use a crisp cider that is on the drier side (as opposed to sweet). I used a 5% ABV cider made from 100% apple juice with no hops.