Chicken

The Most Memorable Chicken Recipes Always Have Vinegar

What is it about this combo?

December  7, 2020
Photo by Photographer: Ty Mecham Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne

As someone who develops and tests recipes for a living, it’s literally my job to describe how and why certain flavor pairings work. Usually, that’s a relatively attainable task, but sometimes, when faced with this particular why? I can’t think of a better answer than: Just, because!

Think about pork and brown sugar. And seafood and butter. And beer and sausage. And of course, chicken and vinegar. They just…work. These combinations have been around for a long time, in countless cuisines, yet are also constantly revived in new recipes.

Today, we’re exploring the last. What is it about chicken and vinegar? Let’s find out.

Chicken isn’t a fatty meat compared with, say, beef, but schmaltzy, well-salted, crispy-skinned chicken is still rich. And there’s no better way to cut fat and salt than with acid, be it freshly squeezed citrus or, arguably chicken’s favorite, vinegar.

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Top Comment:
“I use 2 medium-large onions -1 cup of chicken stock / broth -1 cup of white wine -6 Tbsp Tomato Paste -4 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar -1 tsp Brown Sugar -1 tsp dried Tarragon -1/4-1/2 tsp of Cayenne (we actually use more but if you aren’t a spicy eater you can adjust to taste) -Salt & Pepper to taste *Coat pan with olive oil on med-high heat. When pan is hot add onions and sauté until lightly browned (4-5 minutes) Add chicken pieces to pan skin side down. (pushing onions to the side of pan) Turn browning both sides thoroughly. In a medium bowl add all remaining ingredients and whisk to blend well. When chicken is browned add liquid mixture to pan. Bring to a low boil, cover and reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes. We serve it over yellow rice that is traditional to our heritage and made with additional onions, green/red peppers and more cayenne in the seasoning but its still delicious served over a plain white or jasmine rice. Its been a family favorite for decades. I hope you’ll try it! ”
— Hurricane
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Tangy, salty, and sorta sweet, vinegar leaves me wanting more. It’s not only that I’m an acid fiend (though that’s not not a factor here); it’s about culinary harmony.

Chicken with vinegar appears in countless long-standing dishes. Poulet au Vinaigre, a French classic thanks to chef Paul Bocuse, calls for red wine vinegar to be reduced until thick and syrupy, then mixed with cream and seared chicken pieces. In Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken, an acidic component is vital to the sweet sauce slathered on the chicken before grilling: In her cookbook Aloha Kitchen, Alana Kysar’s version calls for rice vinegar. This ingredient is also used in Amelia Rampe’s recipe for the classic Filipino Chicken Adobo, braising in a sauce with a whole head of garlic for maximum punch.

Contemporary dishes lean on the combination, too. Alison Roman’s Vinegar Chicken With Crushed Olive Dressing was the most popular recipe on NYT Cooking in 2019, and an adapted version of Kysar’s Huli Huli Chicken (calling for rice or apple cider vinegar) also made this list.

“Acid grants the palate relief, and makes food more appealing by offering contrast,” writes Samin Nostrat in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. “While salt enhances flavors, acid balances them. By acting as a foil to salt, fat, sugar, and starch, acid makes itself indispensable to everything we cook.”

The first time Nosrat made Poulet au Vinaigre, at the suggestion of a mentor, she was skeptical: “It hardly seemed appetizing.” However, Nosrat realized the vinegar mellows as it cooks. Her cookbook’s Chicken With Vinegar recipe calls for white wine vinegar, added to the pan along with searing chicken pieces, simmered until the meat is cooked through, and splashed in again to perk up the dish just before serving. “It heightened my appreciation for what acid can do for a rich dish.”

In his new cookbook The Flavor Equation, Nik Sharma talks about using vinegar in marinades for chicken. Characterizing his use of the condiment as a “flavor booster and also as a brining solution,” Sharma stirs vinegar into marinades for a grilled chicken salad, roast chicken thighs, and chicken lollipops (Sharma’s are doused in a brick-red sambal oelek–based sauce). Of the salad, he writes: “Together salt and acid affect protein structure and increase the water retention capacity of the chicken breast. The result is a chicken breast that’s juicier and more tender.”

When I think of vinegar and chicken, my mind immediately jumps to Chicken Savoy, a dish native to northern New Jersey, where I grew up. Though the dish is simple (chicken parts smeared with an herby paste, baked hot and fast, finished with lots of vinegar), it’s attracted a cult following in Essex County. After first debuting at Belleville’s Belmont Tavern in the 1960s, the dish has turned up on menus at red sauce restaurants all around the area. And though the official recipe remains a tightly-kept secret, when I crave chicken and vinegar at home, I riff on Chicken Savoy. It’s the double dose of vinegar that brings the dish together: Both sweet balsamic and zingy red wine vinegar—a tip shared with me by Steven Amadeo, the owner and manager of Miele’s Restaurant in Verona, New Jersey—go into the pan with sizzling chicken. Before serving, I stir in another glug of each vinegar, because you can never have enough.

Do you have a favorite chicken recipe made with vinegar? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

14 Comments

Julie F. December 12, 2020
Traditional chicken Adobo main ingredient is vinegar.
 
excursionluvr December 12, 2020
It is not often that I see someone from my hometown of Belleville NJ in an article..We have a lot of restaurants with tasty food. 😍
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. December 12, 2020
I'm from NJ as well—we have great food!
 
FrugalCat December 10, 2020
I used white balsamic vinegar. Perfect!
 
Chito M. December 9, 2020
C'mon guys, this is everyday fare in the Philippines. It's called Adobo, and you can do it with either chicken, pork or beef.
 
Anton K. December 8, 2020
I cooked a Jerk Chicken with rice vinegar & apple cider vinegar and all the spices for the dish!
 
Hurricane December 8, 2020
My absolute favorite way to cook chicken with Vinegar is a recipe I inherited from my great aunt. She always called this “French Chicken” but if you search recipes under that heading there are 100s. We’re indigenous so I have no idea of the honest origin of this recipe but I’ve made it for more than 25 years.

-2 Tbsp Olive Oil (I prefer a high flavor spanish brand oil)
-4-6 pieces of Bone in chicken (I use all thighs but you can use breasts or a whole cut up)
-2-3 cups (to preference) of coarsely chopped onion. I use 2 medium-large onions
-1 cup of chicken stock / broth
-1 cup of white wine
-6 Tbsp Tomato Paste
-4 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
-1 tsp Brown Sugar
-1 tsp dried Tarragon
-1/4-1/2 tsp of Cayenne (we actually use more but if you aren’t a spicy eater you can adjust to taste)
-Salt & Pepper to taste
*Coat pan with olive oil on med-high heat. When pan is hot add onions and sauté until lightly browned (4-5 minutes)
Add chicken pieces to pan skin side down. (pushing onions to the side of pan) Turn browning both sides thoroughly.
In a medium bowl add all remaining ingredients and whisk to blend well. When chicken is browned add liquid mixture to pan. Bring to a low boil, cover and reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes. We serve it over yellow rice that is traditional to our heritage and made with additional onions, green/red peppers and more cayenne in the seasoning but its still delicious served over a plain white or jasmine rice. Its been a family favorite for decades. I hope you’ll try it!
 
Meredith S. December 10, 2020
This sounds fantastic. I'm cooking this tonight......mms
 
Pete M. December 11, 2020
Sounds good. And there are indeed many hundreds of variations on braised chicken. I like to do it with whole olives, whole garlic cloves, lemon slices*, and some fennel. (And no vinegar.)
 
Victoria December 8, 2020
Victoria's special chicken: I created a quick chicken thigh recipe with vinegar, rosemary, dry and Dijon mustard, soya sauce and sesame oil. Take 3/4 cup of soya sauce (I use Lite Soya Sauce), 2-3 TBL of sesame oil, 4 TBL cider vinegar, 2 TBL Dijon mustard, 1 t. dry mustard, 1 t. dried rosemary. Whisk together. Add boneless chicken thighs and marinate 4 hours turning once. Cook for 13 minutes on one side in convection over at 340 degrees, turn over and cook for another 10 minutes at 340 degree. Let sit 1 minutes and enjoy!!!
I get rave reviews from my friends and it takes less that 5 minutes to make!!
Bon Appetit!
Victoria
 
Victoria December 8, 2020
I use 5 boneless organic thighs!
 
Ronnie F. December 8, 2020
This is nothing new. We have always known to soak chicken in water and vinegar for 30 min to an hour. What this does is cut away fats and oils in the chicken, before seasoning and cooking.
 
Kit December 7, 2020
I'd love to get the Whole Foods recipe for southern vinegar chicken.
 
Kolaches3 December 7, 2020
My family came from Bohemia (Czech) and one of my maternal great-grandmother's recipes was Sour Cream Chicken Gravy, served with bread dumplings. Chicken thighs and legs are boiled with onion and seasonings and the broth is mixed with sour cream and apple cider vinegar. Addictive-and one of our family's absolute favorites!