This Hard Cider Chicken pairs crispy chicken thighs, apples, and bacon with a creamy cider, Dijon, and herb mustard sauce. Fall comfort food at its best!
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.
Having explored the world of hard (fermented) apple cider more over the past few years, I’d been itching to use it as the base for a Normandy-inspired chicken dinner. Suffice it to say, it makes a delicious sauce.
In this recipe, crisp-skinned thighs meet tender apples, crispy bacon, and a creamy hard cider and mustard sauce, with herbs, and a splash of Applejack brandy for good measure.
It’s all at once smoky, herby, rich, and bright. These creamy chicken thighs have become one of our favorite fall chicken dinners.
What You’ll Need to Make Hard Cider Chicken
I like to use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs for this dish. They’re juicy, flavorful, and the crispy skin makes for a nice contrast to the creamy sauce. You’ll need 6-8 thighs, about 3-1/2 pounds.
My favorite apples to use in this recipe are Fuji. They’re sweet, but not too sweet, and hold their shape well when cooked. (This recipe is a great way to use some of your apple haul after a trip to the orchard! I got the apples pictured here during my visit to Terhune Orchards in New Jersey.)
Need a refresher on apple varieties? Check out this visual guide from Epicurious.
If you prefer a sweet sauce, you can certainly use a sweeter cider (such as Angry Orchard). When choosing a cider, do keep in mind that the apples will release juices into the sauce as they cook and add some sweetness.
In building the dish, you’ll need thick-cut bacon, both smooth and grainy Dijon mustard (I use the Maille brand for both), fresh herbs (sage and thyme), shallots, garlic, flour, and heavy cream.
A touch of Applejack (apple brandy) before plating gives the sauce a beautiful finish, but I certainly wouldn’t go out and buy a bottle just for this dish. I’ve listed it as “optional, but highly recommended.”
Making These Creamy Chicken Thighs
This dish is a modified braise. When you braise a dish, you brown the meat at a high temperature and then slowly cook it in a liquid of your choosing in a covered pan.
Braising vs Stewing. Braising requires a comparably smaller amount of liquid than a technique like stewing. When you braise, the meat is not submerged in the liquid.
The process for this dish is nearly identical, except I don’t cover the pan. I like the skin on the chicken thighs to remain crisp.
To build layers of flavor, I start by crisping bacon in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven. Then, I brown chicken thighs that I’ve seasoned with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, in the bacon drippings until golden on both sides. (Depending on the size of your pan, this might need to be done in two batches.)
The chicken skin will likely have released a good amount of fat into the pan, so I drain off all but a couple of tablespoons before sautéing the apples, shallots, and garlic.
Before deglazing the pan with the hard cider and chicken stock, I stir a little flour into the apple mixture to help thicken the sauce for serving.
Once I’ve scraped all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (the best flavor!), I whisk in the mustards, herbs, and a little salt and pepper. It’s best to go light on the salt at this stage, since the bacon will add some saltiness to the sauce.
Then, I pop the whole pan into the oven to finish cooking for 20-25 minutes, until bubbling. Transfer the chicken thighs and apples to a serving platter (or holding plate if you’re serving in the pan), and finish the sauce with cream, Applejack, and salt and pepper to taste.
Serving the Chicken
We love to serve these creamy chicken thighs with egg noodles or mashed potatoes to mingle with the cider sauce. Roasted potato wedges would also be delicious.
For a one-pot meal, the chicken and apples are definitely satisfying enough to be enjoyed without a “side”. In that case, I’d recommend a loaf of crusty bread to dip into the sauce. (You won’t want to waste a drop of it, trust me!)
I find that this dish is best enjoyed the day it’s made. Leftovers can certainly be reheated, but they won’t have quite the same “oomph” as when the sauce and chicken are fresh.
Hard Cider Braised Chicken
- 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds), trimmed of excess skin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (approximate)
- 8 ounces thick cut bacon , cut into lardons
- 3 medium Fuji apples , peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each
- 3/4 cup chopped shallots
- 2 large garlic cloves , minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 12 ounces hard cider (dry or medium-dry)
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon grainy or "Old Style" mustard (I use Maille)
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons Applejack (apple brandy) (optional, but highly recommended)
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Dry chicken thighs with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Rub a pinch of smoked paprika onto the skin side.
- In a large frying pan, sauté pan, or wide Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
- Drain all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from the pan. Brown the chicken over medium-high heat, starting with the skin side down, for 3-4 minutes per side, until golden. Depending on the size of your pan, you might have to do this in 2 batches. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Add apple wedges and shallots, and sauté over medium-high heat until apples are just beginning to brown around the edges, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
- Stir in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in hard cider and chicken broth, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in Dijon and grainy mustards, all but 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
- Add the chicken and any accumulated chicken juices back to the pan, skin side up. Nestle the chicken thighs into the apples and sauce, but don't fully submerge them. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the chicken registers 170-175 degrees F away from the bone.
- Remove chicken and apples from the pan to a platter and loosely tent with foil. Return the pan to the stove to finish the sauce.
- Use a spoon to skim any extra fat from the top of the sauce. Stir in heavy cream and Applejack (if using) into the sauce and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the sauce over the chicken and apples and serve with egg noodles or potatoes. Garnish with the reserved bacon.
This post was originally published on November 1, 2014 and updated in 2020 with new photos and copy.