I’ve only had bourbon chicken in New Orleans once or twice. The NOLA staple is a Chinese-American centerpiece dish if you’re wandering around the French Quarter, but isn’t as widespread as one would expect throughout the rest of the country. Not yet, at least.
The dish is pretty simple — a very dark, sweet and sour sauce, chicken morsels, white rice, happiness. The origins go back to Bourbon Street and the Chinese migrant community that makes food along the heavily touristed lane. It seems the name was actually derived from simply being invented on Bourbon Street and bourbon whiskey wasn’t involved at all. Today, people have adapted the recipe and use bourbon whiskey in the base sauce. I, for one, think that’s a good addition as I love cooking with booze.
So while this recipe isn’t the old-school Bourbon Street version, it’s a hybrid of what I remember and from reading dozens of “bourbon chicken” recipes on the internet. I adjusted this slightly to my palate (and amped up the bourbon component). Otherwise, this is pretty damn easy and fast to make. You’ll have enough for four servings in under 20 minutes. And it has bourbon in it. That’s a win-win, folks!
Let’s dive in.
- 1-lb. chicken (white and dark meat)
- 1 tsp. MSG (or sea salt)
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- 2 tbsp. corn starch (separated)
- 1/2 cup peanut oil
- 1 thumb finely grated ginger
- 2 diced green onions (whites and greens separated)
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/8 cup tap water
- 1/2 cup cooked rice (per serving)
A few quick asides. I ended up getting a small roaster and just deboning it. This wasn’t on purpose — my grocery store only had whole chickens for some reason when I went this morning. You don’t have to debone a whole chicken. Two small breasts and four small thighs (skinless and deboned) should be about one pound of chicken. By all means, use that instead of butchering your own chicken.
The rest is pretty straightforward items you can find in any grocery store. As for the bourbon, I’m using Evan Williams Black Label. I’ve been cooking with it all through the holidays and it really makes for a nice sauce base. It’s also affordable and easy-to-find enough to always have on hand for cooking, deglazing, etc.
Lastly, you can check out how I make rice on the stovetop here. Otherwise, follow the instructions on the packet of whichever rice you choose.
What You’ll Need:
- Wok or large frying pan
- Wooden spoon
- Box grater
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Kitchen knife
- Start by cutting the chicken into one-inch chunks. Add to a bowl with MSG (or salt), white pepper, and one tablespoon of corn starch. Mix well so that all the chicken is evenly coated.
- Finely mince the garlic, dice the green onion, and finely grate the ginger. Measure out the wet ingredients and sugar for easy cooking later. Set aside.
- Heat the peanut oil in a wok on high heat until it’s just starting to smoke. Add all of the chicken in one layer. Leave alone until the chicken browns on the bottom and then flip it over to brown on the other side (about two to three minutes per side).
- Once the chicken is browned and cooked through (maybe four to five minutes tops), remove from the wok into a waiting (clean) bowl.
- Pour off excess peanut oil but make sure to leave a thin layer in the wok.
- Add the ginger, garlic, and whites of the green onion to the wok (still on high heat) and stir for about 30 seconds or until very fragrant. Immediately add in the soy sauce, bourbon, vinegar, water, and sugar. Stir as the sauce starts to boil up.
- Reduce the heat to medium and allow the sauce to briskly simmer.
- Mix one tablespoon of corn starch with one tablespoon of water in a small cup, creating a slurry. Add to the simmering bourbon sauce while stirring to thicken.
- Once the sauce takes on the thickness of real maple syrup (on the thin side), add the chicken back in.
- Simmer for another two minutes to let the sauce thicken more and really bind to the chicken.
- Serve over about 1/2 cup of rice and garnish with diced green tops from the green onion and a glass of bourbon.
This is just lovely. It’s bright thanks to that vinegar and bourbon yet deeply umami filled. The ginger, garlic, and green onion soften while still holding onto their spice and sweetness while adding a nice textural element to the sauce.
The chicken is soft and juicy and has a nice little crunch to it from time to time. Thanks to the cornstarch coating, it truly feels like it’s coated with sauce and not just boiled in the sauce. There’s great textural depth is what I’m getting at, and it feels like good take out more than “homemade.”
Overall, if you’re making yourself some lunch for the week, this is a great option. Load this into reheatable trays with the rice and reheat throughout the week in the microwave. It’ll slap, trust me. Alternately, whip this up on Friday night for your partner and pour a big ol’ glass of bourbon to wash away the first week back to the grind in 2022.