The Easy Way To Substitute The Booze In Bourbon Chicken And Maintain Flavor

News flash: Just because it's called bourbon chicken doesn't mean you have to use any actual bourbon to make it. Bourbon chicken is a New Orleans staple (especially on the namesake Bourbon Street) and is also reminiscent of a classic Chinese stir-fry. In short, there's no shortage of reasons why foodies might be hungry to make some bourbon chicken — and just as many reasons to skip the bourbon and allow apple juice or chicken stock to take its place.

When you boil the pan sauce for bourbon chicken, all of the alcohol content gets cooked off, imparting bourbon's toasty, sharp vanilla flavor without the booziness ... in theory. Different bourbons have different proofs, which can affect a dish. "Booze burn" is a real thing, and it happens when you don't allow a dish to cook for long enough to cook off all of the alcohol. Some home cooks mitigate this effect by using lower-proof bourbons, but, either way, if any liquor is leftover in your pan sauce, you'll be able to taste it right away, and it isn't exactly pleasant.

If you use a malty, barley-based bourbon, that malty taste will also find its way into your sauce's profile. That can be a good thing if you like the flavor, but it isn't always the best fit when you want the taste of your chicken and tangy apple sauce to shine. This can make bourbon a tricky ingredient to work with as you try to build a balanced sauce.

Grab a little ingenuity (and a few pantry staples)

Folks cook with bourbon in the first place for its flavor, but bourbon's profile isn't one that can't be replicated with a little imagination. For zero-proof bourbon chicken that'll have even the most diehard fans fooled, skip the bourbon and simply add an extra ¼ cup of chicken stock or apple juice (which might have been included in your pan sauce recipe anyway). Combine your ingredients, simmer over low heat until the sauce is reduced to a thick syrupy consistency as normal, then slowly add the cream if your recipe calls for it.

With this technique, you also have more control over the profile of your dish. You can manipulate your sauce to be fruitier and tangier by adding more apple juice or using more chicken stock to make it lean toward savory. This tip works with chicken thighs, boneless, skinless chicken breast, and diced chicken.

If you like your bourbon chicken a little punchier than what apple juice or chicken stock can provide, you can play around with your substitutions. Apple cider vinegar, ground cloves, ground ginger, vanilla extract, molasses, black coffee, brown sugar, sorghum, Worcestershire, and soy sauce would all help build a sweet, savory, and sticky pan sauce. You could even add a little liquid smoke to help replicate bourbon's distinctive sweet-smoky profile.