Hard Apple Cider Braised Chicken Thighs are a new fall favorite around here. Simmered in hard apple cider, chicken stock, onion and fennel seeds, this chicken is bursting with all the warm, hearty flavors of fall.
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**Update: This post has been updated since its original post date in 2016. Photos, text and recipe instructions have been updated but the recipe remains the same.
If there was ever a meal that screamed fall, it has to be this Hard Apple Cider Braised Chicken.
Tart apple cider, distinct fennel seeds, sweet onions, rich chicken stock and juicy chicken thighs combine to create a simple, homey dinner that will bring warmth to your table.
What is Braising?
Let’s start out by talking about the method of braising and why it’s so great.
Braising starts by searing the meat at a high heat. This starts the cooking process, locks in the juices and adds lots of flavor to the final dish.
After both sides are seared, liquid is added to reach halfway up the meat and it is then simmered low and slow to finish cooking. This results in a super tender dish.
Braising is often used for tougher, cheaper cuts of meat because the process helps break down the muscle. The collagen in the meat also breaks down into gelatin which helps thicken the sauce for finishing the dish.
Ingredients for Hard Apple Cider Braised Chicken Thighs
Now that the process of braising has been broken down, let’s talk about the ingredients you’ll need to make this dish.
How to Make Hard Apple Cider Braised Chicken Thighs
Heat a skillet large enough to fit all your chicken over medium heat. I prefer to use a enamel cast iron skillet or pot for braising. It holds the heat well and it’s pretty enough to serve out of.
We’re going to start by softening the onions and toasting the fennel. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet.
Add the chopped onions and fennel and stir to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are softened and starting to turn golden brown.
Remove the onions and fennel from the skillet and bump up the heat to medium high. While the skillet is heating up, prepare the chicken thighs.
Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. This is a super important step when searing. If the chicken is wet, it will not be able to form that crispy, golden crust.
Season both sides with the salt and pepper. Add olive oil to the skillet and then add chicken, skin side down. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes, flip and sear the second side.
Add the onion mixture back into the skillet then pour in the bottle of hard apple cider. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the skillet to get all those browned bits off the bottom. So much flavor lies in those bits.
Add chicken stock to the skillet until the liquid reaches halfway up the chicken thighs. The amount you’ll need will depend on the size of your skillet. I used 1 cup of chicken stock.
Lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 45 minutes. The recipe is set it and forget it at this point. You don’t need to mess with anything as it braises.
Make It Crispy
After you’re done braising the chicken, there’s one more step to put this dish completely over the top.
Remove the chicken from the skillet and place in a single layer in a baking dish, skin side up. Place it under the broiler for a few minutes to get the skin super crisp and golden.
While the skin is crisping up, reduce the sauce. Bump the skillet back up to medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. You can cook it to whatever thickness you desire.
You won’t need to add any cornstarch to the sauce to thicken it. The natural gelatin from the chicken bones will naturally thicken the sauce.
Reducing the sauce will also deepend and intensify the flavors.
What to Serve with Hard Apple Cider Braised Chicken Thighs:
Hard Apple Cider Braised Chicken Thighs
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 3 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 12 oz. bottle hard apple cider
- 1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock
- Heat a skillet (large enough to fit all the chicken) over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat. Add the onion and fennel seeds to the skillet and sauté until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove onion mixture from the pan and bump heat up to medium-high.
- Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel then season both sides with salt and pepper. Add chicken, skin side down, to the pan. Sear on first side until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Sear second side then remove to a plate. It will not be cooked through at this point.
- Add onions back to the skillet along with the hard apple cider and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Allow it to boil for 2 to 3 minutes then return the chicken, along with any juices on the plate, to the skillet. You want the liquid to reach halfway up the chicken. If you need more liquid, add a bit more chicken stock. Reduce heat to low so the liquid is simmering but not boiling. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
- Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken from the pan to a baking sheet. Broil chicken until skin is browned and crispy. While chicken is broiling, bump the heat up to medium high and simmer the remaining sauce until it's thickened to a gravy-like consistency. Serve chicken with a spoonful of sauce.