Braise

Cider-Braised Chicken With Apples, Onions & Thyme

September 21, 2021
15 Ratings
Photo by Melina Hammer
Author Notes

Here at Catbird Cottage, this dish is in regular rotation for top-notch comfort food: cider-braised chicken, apples, and onions, all in a savory-sweet, thyme-infused sauce. This recipe brings fall’s greats together—picking apples and roasting dinner—creating a meal so good, you likely won’t have leftovers. The secret lies in deeply browning the elements in a skillet (I love cast-iron), then creating a lush sauce with your favorite hard cider and good stock. Finished in the oven, the bubbling braise fills the house with an incredible aroma and produces onions and apples that are melting-soft. Definitely serve with crusty bread or mashed potatoes to soak up the savory sauce.
Melina Hammer

  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 4
Ingredients
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 small yellow onions, halved and peeled
  • 2 to 3 small apples (such as Stayman Winesap, Fuji, or Mutsu), cored and halved
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup dry hard cider
  • Bread, noodles, or potatoes, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Pat dry the chicken thighs. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet (at least 10 to 12 inches in diameter) until hot over medium-high heat, then add the oil and swirl to coat. Add the thighs, skin side down, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Sear for 3 minutes, then add the onion halves, cut side down, and sear for another 5 minutes. You can rotate the pan as needed for even browning, but don’t disturb the chicken or onions.
  3. Flip the onions. Check the chicken—its skin should be golden. If it’s golden, flip the chicken, too. (If not, wait another minute or so.) Cook for 3 minutes, then add the apples, cut side down, scooting the onions and chicken as needed. Throw in the thyme sprigs and season everything with salt and pepper. Cook the apples for 4 to 7 minutes, until they’re evenly browned, then flip them over.
  4. Carefully pour in the cider—it will boil vigorously—and let it simmer for 4 to 8 minutes, until reduced by about half. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
  5. Transfer the pan to the oven. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the chicken thighs reach 165°F on an instant-read thermometer, or their juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife. The sauce will be thin, the consistency of pan juice rather than a thick gravy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve with something starchy—like crusty bread, noodles, or potatoes—to soak up all the sauce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Danielle Massey
    Danielle Massey
  • Melina Hammer
    Melina Hammer
  • cookinginvictoria
    cookinginvictoria
  • glammie
    glammie
  • AntoniaJames
    AntoniaJames
When she's not writing, cooking, styling, and shooting her forthcoming cookbook - out Spring 2022 with Ten Speed Press - Melina makes food look its best for the New York Times, Eating Well, Edible, and other folks who are passionate about real food. She grows heirloom+native plants and forages wild foods at her Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. There, Melina prepares curated menus to guests seeking community, amidst the robust flavors of the seasons.

34 Reviews

J-Lon October 15, 2021
Would echo others who said that it as hard to get everything in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Perhaps the author had really small apples, thighs, and onions. I managed to fit it all in through the browning stage by stacking most of onions in one part of the pan, once they were browned on the flat side. I also pushed the chicken pieces up on their sides once the skin side was browned to make enough room for the apples. And I broke some of the apple halves in half, so I had more flexibility to arrange them. This meant I needed to brown them on two sides. So it took a bit longer. But once everything was browned and had shrunk down a bit, I managed to fit it all in there along with the cider and chicken stock.

My final product looked fantastic, like the picture. But the flavor wasn't quite up to that standard. It was good, but not amazing. I served it with buttered macaroni. Next time, I might consider dry brining the chicken with salt for a few hours before browning, so it's more thoroughly seasoned down to the bone. I also think the recipe might benefit from some additional acidity. I used fuji apples and relatively dry hard cider, but I guess they just didn't have quite enough sour to balance out the richness of the chicken fat and onions along with the sweetness of the apples and cider.

My liquid also reduced a fair amount in the oven. Perhaps I let the cider reduce too much before adding the stock. So I suspect I had less liquid than was intended. But there was still enough to cover the everything with some juice.

With that said, it was good enough that I'd consider making it again.
 
Claregridley October 14, 2021
Loved it, seasoned with cumin instead of thyme because I’m not a big thyme fan, husband loved it and said put it in the rotation. Sopped up excess liquid with buttered bread, delish!
 
joan October 14, 2021
Hi. I'd love to make this for the family, but I can't use alcohol right now. Will regular apple cider work?
 
Claregridley October 14, 2021
Technically you’re cooking out the alcohol so it shouldn’t be an issue, but I think regular cider would be ok
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 15, 2021
Regular cider is going to likely a bit sweet. You could try a nonalcoholic beer, maybe? I’m no expert there... but Clare is right, you’ll cook most of the alcohol off. And the dry/rich flavor it imparts is unique to it!
 
J-Lon October 15, 2021
If you can't use alcohol at all (i.e., even cooking the alcohol out of hard cider), I might consider mixing regular cider with some apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, so you get some acidity to balance out the sweetness of the cider. I made this dish tonight, and while it looked great and tasted pretty good, I thought it could have used a bit more acidity or something. So I might add some vinegar or lemon juice myself next time, even with the hard cider.
 
cookinginvictoria October 18, 2021
While much of the alcohol will be cooked off, not all of it will be, which could be a concern for recovering alcoholics and those abstaining for other reasons. Per this article, it takes three hours of cooking to eliminate all traces of alcohol from a dish. https://www.ochef.com/how-long-does-it-take-alcohol-to-cook-off
 
ritu October 14, 2021
nice
 
Susan T. October 12, 2021
What is hard cider and where can I find it?
 
Jeanne October 13, 2021
It's an alcoholic beverage in the refrigerated beer section of most grocery stores. Make sure you get an APPLE hard cider as it can also be made with pears and other fruits.
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 13, 2021
And if you're going to get a good one, ideally found at your local boutique wine+liquor shop. Adventures await!
 
Susan T. October 13, 2021
Thanks to you both
 
ortolan October 11, 2021
I love most every recipe I make of this site, but I have to say I was extremely disappointed in this recipe. I used cipollini onions, really focused on browning them, beautiful farmer’s market apples, and even added a few cloves of heritage garlic in their skins for added depth of flavor. Other than that, I followed the recipe as written and the “sauce” was overly liquid and lacked depth. I wonder if the cider I used was not good; it was a craft cider from Michigan. Anyhow my recommendation is to adjust the liquid amounts down and use actual apple cider for depth of flavor.
 
paseo October 12, 2021
Did you use thighs from a free range organic chicken from a local farmer? That might have been the problem. And a dry hard cider, not a funky one, well reduced.
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 12, 2021
Well that’s unfortunate. In this instance, I think slightly larger / round onions would actually work better - mine were ~2” diameter. Absolutely important is hard searing the elements (getting them good and browned) prior to adding the liquid. Sounds like you probably did that. The cider should be dry, not sweet, and yes, while the finished sauce is not gravy-like, it should be deliciously flavorful. You could try reducing the sauce further on the stovetop, prior to finishing it in the oven. Also make sure there’s good crusty bread to sop up the juices!
 
ortolan October 12, 2021
I did use Mary’s chicken and dry hard cider! I reduced it by more than half. I think if I were to do this again, I would reduce the chicken stock significantly as well before putting in the oven. It wasn’t the chicken that tasted so flavorless, it was the sauce. Quite surprising given the elements.
 
JModica October 11, 2021
Can you use this recipe as is, without the chicken as a side dish? Would you need less stock? Considering it for a Thanksgiving side. Thanks.
 
glammie October 11, 2021
I would say no ... basically, without the protein, it's apples and onions braised in stock. Not really an inspiring side. If you were to google braised apples and onions, you'd find a bunch of recipes that include cabbage. That would probably work better.
 
JModica October 11, 2021
Thanks. I did do a search, but nothing looked quite right. I’ll definitely be making it with the chicken soon. Cheers!
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 12, 2021
Part of the depth in this dish comes from the chicken fat, helping to brown the onions and apples. If your guests aren’t vegetarian, you could use a little schmaltz to cook them. Another aspect is that the pan sauce develops more flavor with the chicken enriching it as it cooks. However! If you’re using delicious homemade stock and a dry cider, (don’t forget lots of thyme) I don’t see why this couldn’t be delicious as a side (it’s a great idea actually!). Cook more of the liquid down on the stovetop to build its rich flavor, and finish it in the oven (check the tenderness of the apples and onions - you might even be able to omit this step). let me know how it goes!
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 12, 2021
If the onions and apples are hard seared, it could be cathartic (adding cabbage or potatoes, or Brussels sprouts could be great too). It definitely requires those elements get burnished before adding the stock though, to give them depth and contrast. :)
 
JModica October 12, 2021
Thanks so much - makes a lot of sense. Worth a trial pre-Thanksgiving to see how it goes.
 
AntoniaJames October 12, 2021
I'd add a teaspoon or two of a high quality mushroom powder, to boost the character of any vegetarian riff on this - enough to give it a bit of depth, but not enough to make the mushroom a predominant flavor. I buy the stuff from nuts.com - it comes in a bag that looks like it will last you a lifetime, but you'll use it a lot once you have it, and it keeps forever (and you'll be buying another bag of it much sooner than you'd have expected).

I'd also add a dollop of my favorite dark mustard - a coarse blend with horseradish in it! ;o)
 
AntoniaJames October 12, 2021
JModica, do tell us, please, how it turns out. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who is interested! Thank you. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 12, 2021
Both of those additions sound wonderful, Antonia!
 
Danielle M. October 9, 2021
This was an easy one-pan meal. I’d highly recommend it with some roasted sourdough on the side. I’ll be trying it again soon with polenta to soak up the excess sauce. For two people I only used 1 onion & 1 apple in a 8” skillet. it kept me from having any crowding issues like most other comments due to this adjustment.
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 12, 2021
So happy to hear you enjoyed it. Love your sides recommendations- I used sourdough and loved sopping up the sauce with it too. The pan is definitely crowded in this instance, but to pack in all the goodies I know I’ll want later, it’s an okay trade-off! ESP if the chicken gets browned before it is fully packed. ;)
 
Joseph D. October 7, 2021
Too sweet for me. I had same problem with crowded skillet. Not a recipe I'll repeat.
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 7, 2021
It is quite a crowded skilletful, for sure. But occasional monitoring, turning when elements become deeply caramelized, isn't so bad. If yours turned out too sweet, it's likely the cider. Choose a dry hard cider, and the sauce will be velvety and barely sweet-savory, and make you want to sop the whole thing up.
 
besswww October 15, 2021
Agree, found it a bit sweet. Maybe more thyme or serving with bitter greens or something.. I did love the apples & onions, ended up having a bit of mustard on the side with the chicken.
 
besswww October 5, 2021
any suggestions if you don't have hard cider? wine or beer?
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 5, 2021
An ale or sour would work well. Also a dry white wine would work too - see if you can find a hard cider down the road to make it again, as it’s a unique experience ;)
 
djolberg September 29, 2021
The flavors are good in this recipe, but there is no way the ingredients fit in a 10-inch skillet - I needed two skillets for this recipe. I also needed a lot more time to reduce the sauce. Lots of salt needed, too.
 
Author Comment
Melina H. October 4, 2021
I used a skillet that was 10 inches at its base and 12 inches at the lip. Both apples and onions were small: 2-3 inches diameter for the apples and 2" for the onions. I also often lean elements up the sides of the pan, since they're hot surfaces too, and swap what-goes-where as all become caramelized. Glad you liked the flavors!