This easy Bourbon chicken recipe is a tasty fusion of Chinese and Cajun cooking. Lean white meat is stir-fried in a hot wok and then tossed in a sweet, sticky maple sauce.
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When you think of famous dishes originating from Louisiana, gumbo, jambalaya, and bananas foster typically come to mind. But what about Chinese food? Bourbon chicken has become a popular dish at Asian restaurants, with roots in Cajun kitchens. The recipe is easy to make and is a twist to the usual take-out menu.
What makes this dish shine is the sauce. All the ingredients blend seamlessly for rich, savory flavors with a caramel finish. You can use the bourbon sauce as a marinade or glaze on baked and grilled meats. Serve this stir-fry on top of steamed rice for a complete meal.
What is bourbon chicken?
The dish is said to be named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and it’s not surprising to find that one of the critical ingredients is whiskey. It’s a quick chicken stir-fry tossed in a sweet and savory bourbon-infused sauce.
I recommend lean boneless skinless chicken breast cut into small, 1-inch bite-sized pieces. This size helps it to cook quickly and evenly without drying out. If you prefer dark meat, you can use boneless chicken thighs but trim off the excess fat to prevent the texture from becoming greasy.
American whiskey has strong vanilla, oak, and caramel flavors. This single ingredient adds depth and an exciting taste to the dish. It pairs well with the maple notes in the sauce.
I used Knob Creek because that’s what my husband had in our liquor cabinet (don’t tell him!). Other options include Jameson, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Bulleit.
The bourbon sauce
The base of the sauce is bourbon whiskey, soy sauce, pure maple syrup, tomato paste, chicken stock, apple cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes. The combination creates a sweet, savory, and spicy flavor profile with a hint of smoke.
A cornstarch slurry adds glossy richness to the sauce and is often used as a thickening agent in Chinese dishes. The amount added makes for a sauce that clings well to the meat.
How to make bourbon chicken
The key to a successful stir-fry is to have all components prepped and assembled. This technique allows for quick cooking of the protein and sauce. Once the chicken pieces are cut into chunks and sauce mixed, it’s time to grab your wok or large nonstick skillet. Sear the chicken in hot oil until golden brown and nearly cooked through.
Saute the aromatics like minced garlic and ginger to add spice to the dish. Simmer the bourbon sauce for a few minutes to evaporate some alcohol. Mix in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the liquid. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions, and you’ve got a fast and easy meal ready in just 30 minutes.
Serve this with
Frequently asked questions
A unique combination of soy sauce, bourbon whiskey, maple syrup, tomato paste, and a pinch of chili flakes for spice makes this a sweet and savory dish.
Yes! American bourbon whiskey is made mainly from corn that’s been barrel-aged and distilled into liquor. Brands like Jim Beam, Jameson, Jack Daniels, or Marker’s Mark are popular options.
Location, spelling, and ingredients. Bourbon is whiskey (with an “e”) made in the United States, containing 51% corn in the fermented grain mash. It’s also typically aged in oak-charred barrels, bottled at no less than 80 proof, and made without added flavoring, coloring, or other additives. Scotch is whisky (no “e”) made in Scotland, mainly using malted barley.
Does the alcohol cook out of the sauce?
Alcohol evaporates at about 172ºF (78ºC), and simmering the bourbon sauce between 185 to 205ºF (85 to 96ºC) removes some but not all of the whiskey. At least 30 seconds at a temperature above the boiling point starts the evaporation, but it would take hours to completely cook off.
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- 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
- ¼ cup bourbon whiskey
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” pieces
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- ¼ teaspoon sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons sliced green onions
- Bourbon Sauce – In a medium bowl, whisk together chicken stock, bourbon whiskey, soy sauce, maple syrup, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, and chili flakes. Set aside.
- Make the Slurry – In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Set aside.
- Cook the Chicken – Set a wok or large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add vegetable oil and sesame oil. Add the chicken and spread it into one layer. Allow it to cook for 2 minutes without moving. Stir-fry until no longer pink, about 1 minute.
- Cook the Aromatics – Add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Cook the Sauce – Add in bourbon sauce mixture. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, occasionally stirring to help some of the alcohol evaporate and for the sauce to reduce.
- Thicken the Sauce – Stir the bowl of cornstarch slurry, then add it to the pan. Stir until the sauce thickens, 60 to 90 seconds.
- To Serve – Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Use coconut aminos or gluten-free tamari instead of soy sauce.
- Make it Grain-Free: Use 3 tablespoons of arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch. Mix with ⅓ cup of water.
- Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Reheating: Warm over medium-low heat on the stovetop. Alternatively, cover and cook on the high setting in the microwave until hot, about 30-second increments.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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