My balsamic chicken is a rich and rustic dish, braised with caramelized onions in a sweet and savory balsamic-infused sauce to mouthwatering perfection. Fresh figs are added as a finishing touch and provide a sweet, delicious, seasonal accompaniment to the succulent balsamic chicken, all garnished with savory fresh thyme!
Balsamic Chicken, Sweet and Savory, and Deliciously Succulent
Perhaps it's because of the myriad of inspired ways in which one can prepare chicken that it just never seems to lose its luster as a beloved dinner time option for me.
Whether simply seasoned and roasted, or braised with lots of aromatics in a savory liquid, chicken is one of the most cozy and comforting foods that I love to prepare a deliciously rustic dinner out of, any day of the week.
With the autumn season upon us, the idea of a chicken recipe with both some sweet and some savory notes sounded incredibly enticing to me, one that even incorporated the fresh figs of the season as a uniquely delicious, finishing touch.
For this particular partnership, the flavor of balsamic, with its earthy, sweet and tangy notes, seemed like a terrific ingredient to include as part of the marinade for the chicken thighs, offering some brightness—not to mention, figs pair perfectly with balsamic as well!
That same marinade then doubles as part of the delicious sauce that the chicken braises in, along with some caramelized onions, to create a distinctly rustic dish with rich flavor.
Finished with those fresh, sweet figs and a sprinkle of fresh thyme, this deeply caramelized balsamic chicken recipe is a terrific offering when the evenings begin to cool and some warming comfort food is what the soul craves.
My Balsamic Chicken Recipe
Keeping this balsamic chicken recipe super simple was my goal here—the more rustic and seasonal, the better.
I love the crispy skin that occurs when chicken thighs are first seared in a super hot skillet until deeply browned, and then a rich, aromatic sauce is prepared to braise the chicken in until its skin is crispy and the meat succulent and falling off the bone.
To give the chicken that wonderful pop of balsamic flavor, I whisk together a marinade containing balsamic vinegar, garlic, dried Italian herbs, some olive oil, plus some salt and pepper.
I also decided to include some store-bought balsamic glaze—a sweet, syrup-like reduction made with balsamic vinegar—after being inspired by Rosalynn Daniel's brilliant use of it in her lovely Balsamic Cherry Braised Chicken recipe.
What I do is add my chicken thighs, which are super rich in flavor, to a large ziplock bag, pour this earthy marinade over them, and allow the thighs to marinate for at least 2 hours, even overnight for added flavor.
Here's a sneak peek at my balsamic chicken recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To begin, I shake together some balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze, olive oil, smashed garlic cloves, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and water in a mason jar, or whisk it up in a bowl; then, I add my chicken thighs to a large ziplock bag and pour the balsamic marinade over them, and allow them to marinate for at least 2 hours, and even up to overnight.
- When ready to prepare the chicken, I preheat my oven, and prepare my cast iron skillet (or other large pan/braiser) to have on hand.
- I sear my chicken thighs in the super hot skillet until deeply browned, then set the thighs aside while I caramelize my onions in the same pan, then create my sauce.
- The seared chicken thighs are nestled back into the balsamic and onion sauce, and braised for 50 minutes, until deeply browned, tender and juicy.
- To finish the dish and serve, I nestle fresh, halved figs into the sauce surrounding the chicken, and sprinkle over some thyme. I serve with my choice of accompaniment, typically mashed potatoes, or even fresh, crusty bread to sop up the juices.
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 6
Nutrition Info: 476 calories per serving (1 thigh, 3 fig halves, and sauce)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
- 6 skin-on and bone-in chicken thighs (organic, if possible)
- 1/2 cup balsamic glaze
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, divided use (2 lightly smashed, and 2 pressed through garlic press)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- Black pepper
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 medium onions, sliced into semi-circles
- 3/4 cup chicken stock/broth
- 9 small, fresh black figs, halved
- Sprigs of thyme, for garnish
- Place the chicken thighs into a large ziplock bag, and set aside for a moment.
- In a medium bowl (or even using a mason jar), whisk (or shake) together the balsamic glaze, the balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the 2 smashed garlic cloves, the Italian seasoning, 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, 1/2 teaspoons of the black pepper, and the water.
- Pour this marinade over the chicken thighs in the ziplock bag, and take a moment to massage the marinade into the chicken, making sure all of it is well coated. Place the ziplock into a large bowl (to ensure any potential drips are caught) and place into the fridge for 2 hours to marinate, up to overnight.
- Once the chicken has marinated, preheat your oven to 350°.
- Carefully remove your chicken thighs from the marinade, taking care to allow as much excess marinade to drip back off into the ziplock bag as possible (the thighs should be fairly dry), placing the chicken onto a large plate or platter to hold; reserve the marinade, as this is a part of your sauce (I typically pour it into a bowl or into a measuring cup for convenience).
- Preheat your cast iron skillet or other large, heavy-bottom pan or braiser, and add a touch of high-heat oil (or even a little olive oil) to the skillet; once hot, add a batch of chicken thighs (about 3) into the pan, skin-side down to allow them to sear for about 3 minutes. Flip the chicken and sear another 2-3 minutes, then remove from pan and hold on a large platter or plate; repeat with remaining chicken thighs.
- Once the thighs are seared, reduce the heat under the skillet to low or medium-low, and check to see how much fat is in the pan; if there is a relatively small amount, leave it; if there's a lot of fat, then using a spoon, carefully remove a couple of tablespoons until you're left with enough fat to caramelize your onions in, about 3 tablespoons worth.
- Add your onions to the pan, and immediately begin to stir them to help them pick up all the browned bits and leftover balsamic from the seared chicken thighs; stir your onions frequently, allowing them to caramelize for about 12-15 minutes, until deeply golden-brown and softened.
- Once the onions have deeply caramelized, stir in the remaining 2 pressed cloves of garlic until aromatic; then, pour into the pan the reserved marinade plus the chicken stock/broth, and allow the liquid to bubble up, stirring to incorporate.
- Allow the liquid to simmer and reduce slightly, about 2-3 minutes; then, nestle the seared chicken thighs into the sauce, and place the skillet into the oven for 50 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is deeply browned (you can loosely cover the pan with foil during the last 15-20 minutes if the skin is becoming too dark from the sugars, though it should actually be on the darker side).
- Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the skillet from the oven and carefully nestle the figs in between the chicken pieces and into the sauce; garnish with thyme and serve with your choice of accompaniment, topped with lots of sauce and a few figs.
Tips & Tidbits for my Balsamic Chicken:
- Chicken thighs, juicy and flavorful: I'm a really big fan of using chicken thighs for preparations such as this recipe, because the meat is rich, flavorful and juicy. If you prefer, you can use a chicken cut into 8 pieces, or even use a combination of legs and thighs.
- Allow time to marinate: When you allow for at least 2 hours for the chicken to marinate, it takes on all of that sweet and savory flavor, the meat becoming infused with it. If you plan on preparing the dish the next day, you can marinate overnight and the chicken will be super flavorful and juicy.
- Use both balsamic vinegar and balsamic glaze: While these two ingredients have similar profile, they are a bit different in texture and flavor. Because the glaze is a reduction, it is thicker and sweeter, slightly more like a syrup, and adds a sweetness to the marinade/sauce. The vinegar is slightly sharper and thinner, not as sweet, and adds a brighter note. (You can typically find balsamic glaze right there next to the vinegar in the markets.)
- Sear the chicken skin: Once the chicken thighs have marinated, allow any excess marinade (which you will reserve) to drip off. Once you get your cast iron or other heavy-bottom skillet nice and hot, sear the thighs, skin-side down, for several minutes. The skin will become deeply golden-brown and take on caramelization due to the sugars in the balsamic, so take care not to sear them too long and burn the skin.
- Fresh thyme, as a fragrant finisher: I opt for fresh thyme sprinkled over top at the end; but you can use fresh parsley, tarragon, or even a few basil leaves.
- Tasty accompaniments: I typically serve this balsamic chicken with creamy mashed potatoes or roasted garlic mashed potatoes, or even fresh bread. Anything that can sop of up some of the delicious sauce is perfect for this dish!