Chicken seems to be one of the most popular things to make, but unfortunately it can too often turn out dry, rubbery, and flavourless. As much as I like just simple roasted chicken, sometimes I just feel like doing a little more…a sauce perhaps? I wanted to do something that’s a little more interesting than just dumping a jar of apricot preserves on some boneless skinless chicken breasts and baking them (boring, dull, and usually overcooked) but not so time-consuming that I had to devote hours in the kitchen. Is it even possible to create a chicken dish that is moist with complex flavours, and with common pantry and fridge ingredients, in a short amount of time to boot? It sure is – and here’s how I did it.
First of all, round-up everything you’re going to need. It’s going to make the entire process more enjoyable and efficient. So, go ahead and pull the following things out of your fridge and pantry: Orange juice, light corn syrup, honey, Dijon mustard, white vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, oil, and a shallot.
If you open up your fridge and realize that you don’t have any orange juice, please don’t make something else – just use apple or pineapple juice instead. Don’t have honey? Use maple syrup or brown sugar in its place (try apple/maple and pineapple/brown sugar – both delicious). All out of chicken breasts? Use chicken thighs, about twice as many. Or even pork chops. Don’t take recipes so literally; just focus on the technique and idea and find what works for you – you might surprise yourself with what a good cook you are!
Now that we’ve gotten that out-of-the-way, let’s get cooking.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Whisk the OJ, corn syrup, honey, mustard, vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a bowl, or measuring cup, or whatever you can find that is clean. Trust me – this will taste way better than it looks right now, so just set this aside and keep moving. I know what you’re thinking – do I REALLY need to add corn syrup AND honey? Can’t I just add one or the other? The simple answer is no, use both. The scientific answer is that the concentrated glucose in corn syrup has a high affinity for water so its going to help hold moisture in the glaze and give us the juicy chicken that we often crave but seldom taste. Oh, and it makes the sauce thick and shiny too. However, corn syrup isn’t actually as sweet as you might think so that’s where the honey comes in. Don’t worry, the sauce isn’t cloyingly sweet – the vinegar, dijon mustard, and red pepper flakes all add complexity.
Next, pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Any extra moisture will prevent the skin from browning and getting crispy, so don’t skip this step! Put some flour in a dish and coat each piece of chicken with the flour, shaking off the excess. I recommend doing them one at a time, because if you don’t your sauce will probably be clumpy at the end. This little bit of flour is also going to help us avoid having thicken the sauce with cornstarch at the end – an added bonus and time-saving step. Hope you’re loving this as much as I am so far!
Heat the oil in a 12-inch oversafe skillet over med-high heat until it’s just starting to smoke. Brown the chicken on both sides (about 5-8 min per side) and transfer the chicken to the plate. Don’t crowd the pan – the chicken won’t brown properly. If you can’t fit all 4 pieces of the chicken in the pan, either do it in batches or in separate skillets. I browned 3 pieces in 1 pan and the remaining piece in a separate pan…yes, it was something extra to clean but I wanted a deep carmelized skin on my chicken and was too impatient to do it in two batches in the same pan. If you’re thinking that I could have gotten even more colour on these…you’re right. I was impatient, remember? And it still worked out, so there’s hope for me yet. If I had more time, or was less hungry, I would have given these more time. Just keeping it real here.
While you’re browning the chicken, chop up the shallot. You can do this with a knife, a food processor, or a slap’n’chop. Once again, not judging…I may or may not have used 2 of those 3 options for the same shallot. Pour off almost all of the fat from the pan, and cook the shallot until its softened – 2 mins should do the trick.
Crank the heat to high and add the orange juice mixture. Simmer until it gets all syrupy and reduced by about half – this will take about 6-10 minutes. Stir it occasionally while its simmering; use a whisk so you can scrape up all of the brown bits in the bottom of the pan since they hold the key to a flavourful sauce. We also don’t want it to burn and all of our hard work to go to waste and have to figure out a plan B for dinner. That would be very, very sad.
Roll each chicken breast in the glaze so that its coated evenly and place skin-side down in the skillet. I found it easiest to tip the pan so the glaze was pooled in one corner, twirl the chicken around, and repeat until each piece is coated. Even though I browned the chicken in 2 pans, I nestled them in tightly so I could cook in one. Worked just fine and helped keep the chicken stay flavourful.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake it for about 15 minutes. Turn the chicken skin-side up and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until it reaches 160-165 degrees. Take the chicken out of the skillet and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes so the juices can redistribute a bit. While it does this, we’re going to finish off the glaze.
Put the skillet over high heat and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the glaze is very thick and syrupy. This only takes about 1 minute, so don’t walk away! Oh, and a little PSA – don’t attempt to touch the skillet or the handle without a ovenmitt on…lets just say that I did absent-mindedly and could prove it by showing you a picture but I actually want you to try this chicken instead of scaring you away. Just learn from me and my mistakes, ok?
Remove the pan from the heat (REMEMBER THE OVENMITTS!!!!) and stir in a few extra tablespoons of orange juice. This is going to help brighten up the flavours.
Pour a little bit of extra glaze over each piece of chicken and pass the remaining glaze separately. Doesn’t this look great? All it needs is a green vegetable to go alongside. This picture doesn’t do the chicken justice. Perfection on a plate, if you ask me.
I wish you could smell and taste this right now, but then I’d have to share. Instead, I hope you make this yourself sooner rather than later. Enjoy!