Beer Braised Chicken and Onions

It’s hard to believe that a week ago we still had 100° highs here in Sacramento. Now it’s finally starting to feel like fall, and even though I’m still wearing shorts around the house (call it denial), the flip flops are gone and warm wooly socks have taken their place. It’s time for stews and slow braises like this one, rich, savory, and warming. This beer braised chicken is a riff off a classic Belgian carbonnade, a slow braise with sweet, malty dark beer, mustard, with chicken thighs smothered in onions.

The thing to note is that you can’t use any old beer. You want a dark beer, a “malty” beer, one that has richness and body, and sweet notes. The beer cooks down with the stock and mustard, forming a beautiful sauce for the finished dish.

For those of you who are avoiding alcohol, you may be able to find an non-alcoholic beer that works for this recipe, perhaps Kaliber from Guinness, or Erdinger Weissbier.

Beer Braised Chicken and Onions Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

What beer you use matters. Dark beers tend to be more full bodied and malty and sweet. They will work well in this stew. Hoppy beers like IPA or pale ale are too bitter for this stew and should be avoided. For this recipe we've used Moylan's Kilt Lifter, a Scottish ale, and also Ommegang Abbey Ale. A soft Belgian beer like Flanders Red or one of the Chimay beers would also be ideal.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 chicken thighs, about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds
  • Salt
  • 3 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick, root to stem, about 6-8 cups sliced
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups dark beer
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

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1 Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot with a lid, such as a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and set them skin side down in the butter. Salt the meat side lightly. Brown the chicken on both sides well. Remove the browned thighs from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

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2 The chicken skin has likely rendered quite a bit of fat. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan, taking care to not discard any of the tasty browned bits. (Note, do not discard the fat down the drain, you may clog your plumbing. Pour off into a jar.) Lower the heat to medium and add the sliced onions to the pan. If you want, sprinkle brown sugar over the onions. This is optional. The added sugar will intensify the natural sweetness of the onions. Cook the onions slowly, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

3 Add the bay leaves, thyme, mustard, 2 teaspoons of salt, and beer to the onions. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add the chicken thighs and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.

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4 Cook covered for 45 minutes, then uncover the pot and simmer well until the liquid is greatly reduced and the meat wants to fall off the bone, between 45 minutes and 1 hour. If you are using unsalted or low sodium stock, you will likely need to add more salt. Add freshly ground black pepper and more salt to taste.

Serve over egg noodles or with rice or potatoes.

Links:

Belgian Chicken Soup - from Savour Fare
Colombian Chicken Stew with Beer - from My Colombian Recipes
Beer Braised Chicken Enchiladas with Chile - from Use Real Butter

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48 Comments

  1. G3

    I was actually just thinking about this the other day: I’m very nervous about cooking meats that produce fat that can’t go down the drain because I’m never sure what to do with it. Do you just throw it away? Could it go into a compost heap? Strain it and tell people it’s apple juice and con them into drinking it?!?

    I pour it off into a jar, and keep adding to the jar over time until it fills up enough to throw it away. Definitely do not put it in your compost heap unless you want to attract critters of the rodent variety. Or, you can save all the fat of one kind for other uses. Like chicken schmaltz and bacon fat. We always have a jar of bacon fat around, great for adding flavor to beans. ~Elise

  2. Beth

    Elise, do you think I could cook this covered in the oven instead of on the stove top? I would like to brown it when I get home from work, stick it in the oven, and have it ready when I get home from working out.

    Perhaps, if you cooked it uncovered. You do want the liquids to reduce substantially. ~Elise

  3. Susan

    Ooh — we just stocked up on boneless skinless thighs. I actually have chicken fat in the freezer to add for the onions — any reason that wouldn’t work?

    Hi Susan, you can easily add some chicken fat to this. I would still use some butter, the flavor is lovely in this dish. ~Elise

  4. Sharmila

    This recipe sounds just divine, Elise. I can already see a warm comforting meal for the weekend, perhaps with some crisp outside, soft inside roast potatoes and some lemony greens alongside.
    I’m not a beer afficionado straight up but love how its flavour develops and influences sauces and gravies. Can’t wait to try this.

  5. Denise

    Great idea Elise. I usually use hard cider when I braised thighs. And tend to use darker, malty beers for beef short ribs. I like the sounds of this dish. Definitely excited to start cooking some comfort food – glad to hear it is getting chilly up that way!

  6. Rona Macias

    Made this recipe a minute after receiving it in my inbox. Extremely satisfying over rice, plain steamed kale on the side. Next time I will use half the sugar or none, add more liquid and serve it as a soup. Only had dijon with seeds and it worked very well, the seeds gave a nice look to the dish. This recipe is extra easy and superbly tasty.

  7. Judy B.

    We just got some beautiful onions from the Farmer’s Market, and I have 2 packages of chicken thighs in the freezer (6 thighs each pkg). This looks like one of those hearty recipes my hubby will inhale, so my question is, can I double the ingredients straight across, or would I want to reduce some of them? Thinking that the herbs and mustard, doubled, might be a bit much, but I’m not sure. I want to make this over the weekend, since our long summer also seems to be over and we are expecting a rainy weekend. Thanks for another tempting recipe, Elise.

    If I were doubling the recipe, I would double everything. ~Elise

  8. Don

    Concerning the meat fat:

    Place a piece of aluminum foil inside a small bowl and shape to fit with a little more to cover over the sides. Put the hot fat into the bowl and allow to cool. Now just lift the foil out and fold over to seal. Toss in the trash, no fuss, no muss.

    Great suggestion Don, thank you! ~Elise

  9. Checka

    This sounds so yummy! And this is a perfect weekend to try it out. Here in northwest PA, fall is here with beautiful leaves and cold, frosty nights. So I’m going to reveal my beer ignorance here with a question. I bought a 4 pack of Guinness months ago to make your lovely Guinness Chocolate Cake. Heaven on a plate! Is Guinness a “malty, dark beer” suitable for this recipe? Also, my hubby claims he only likes white meat, silly man! Could I use a mix of thighs and breasts in this recipe? Thanks for your wonderful website. You are my “go to” place for delicious recipes.

    Hi Checka, yes, Guinness should work fine, and yes, I would mix up thighs and breasts if your guy will only eat white meat. ~Elise

  10. Debi B

    For some reason, my husband and son have an aversion to chicken thighs. How do you think breasts would work in this recipe and would you make any modifications to compensate for the change?

    Thighs and legs hold up better to long braising, but you could try this breasts. I think it will work fine, just not as flavorful as the thighs. ~Elise

  11. Paul

    Hm… instead of the sugar, how would a tsp or two of honey work?

    The sugar is just there to enhance the sweetness of the onions. You can skip it all together if you want. Honey would add a new flavor to the mix. If you try it with honey, please let us know how you like it. ~Elise

  12. Tina

    Elise, I always have to chuckle when fall rolls around and you start talking about how cool your weather in Sacramento is getting. They’re talking about our low temps tonight setting all time records…your lows in the dead of winter (well as close as you guys get to the dead of winter) are what, about 40 degrees or so? :-)

    That having been said, this sounds like a wonderful recipe…I love meats braised in beer, but I’ve generally stuck with beef and pork. I’ve marinated chicken in beer, but it’s never occurred to me to braise it in beer! I think this will be getting a turn in the rotation this week; I’ve had an urge to get a nice porter or stout, so some of it will be going into the pot with some chicken thighs! Try not to freeze out there!

  13. NancyM

    Another Winner!!!!!! :)))) Never fear, Elise is here! This was absolutely delicious and the leftover Chimay Grand Reserve Ale was such a surprise. I’d always thought dark “beer” was bitter (I don’t know ale from kale, I guess) but this was surprisingly sweet with serious depth to it. My hubby and I will try more ale now. Thanks, again. Loved it!

  14. Checka

    Wanted to follow up to say that I made this last night and it was amazing!! My husband raved about it. (I did use a breast for him.) This will definitely become part of the fall recipe file. Thank you for another wonderful meal!

  15. Catherine Morell

    Can I say, “Ommegang!”….meaning, “Oh my god!” You know how when you have eaten something and even though you are completely stuffed yet you cannot stop putting it in your mouth? The flavor of this sauce (that I have obviously made with Ommegang Abbey Ale) is to die for! I bought organic chicken thighs without skin and it worked out fine. I am trying to reduce fat intake….not alcohol intake. : ) Along the same lines I cooked brown rice as a side instead of egg noodles. The only thing I did not understand about this recipe is the amount of onions. I doubled everything but the onions. 3 pounds of onions seemed more than enough for even a double recipe. But seriously, “OMG!”

  16. Carol Scott

    Just made this dish and it is declared the new family favorite! I made this after a wet, fun day at the pumpkin patch. We all loved it even the 2 and 3 year-old. Found a malty local beer brewed in Kitsap County, WA. That too, may be a new fav.

  17. Warren

    I made this yesterday. Was absolutely fantastic. Came out some much better than expected. Pefect fall meal. Served over garlic mashd potatoes. A keeper!

  18. Kim

    Would a Guinness work for this??

    I think so, but haven’t tried it in this stew. I use Guinness in beef stews and it works great. ~Elise

  19. Checka

    Hey Kim: I made this over the weekend and used Guinness beer. It worked great. Then you can use another can to make Elise’s divine Guinness Chocolate Cake. :-)

  20. Erik

    Hi, Elise!

    I am going to attempt this dish tonight. I was curious, if I am using chicken breast and thigh pieces would I just cut the cooking time down to maybe 30/30 minutes v. 45/45?

    Thank you,
    -Erik

    Hi Erik, you want to cook the chicken as long as it takes to get it very tender. I would keep the same cooking time, but if is tender before then, then fine. ~Elise

  21. Jennifer

    Looks great! Can I use boneless, skinless thighs for this? Not ideal, I realize, but I have them in my freezer already. Thanks!

    Sure! ~Elise

  22. Jim

    Hi..The sauce was just too bitter for me..I used Guiness extra stout. Was that my problem?

    Probably. Remember whatever the beer tastes like will flavor the stew. ~Elise

  23. Kara

    I started defrosting the chicken in the fridge on Sunday morning, but didn’t have time, nor was the chicken defrosted enough to cook it that night. In order to get it on the table for the family on a weeknight, I had to do it in the crockpot. It turned out more soup-like then yours, more like a French onion soup with chicken, but everyone loved it! Even my picky 3 year old.

  24. Lauren

    If I want to make this ahead of time, can I make it completely and then reheat it? Or should I cut the cooking time short and then finish reducing the liquid just before serving? It’s not ideal, I know, but I don’t usually have more than 2 hours between getting home and mealtime!

    Greetings from Berlin– looking forward to trying this with some good German beer!

    It’s stew-like. You can easily make the whole thing ahead and just serve it over freshly made egg noodles. ~Elise

  25. Hazel

    Made this with Guinness. Didn’t have any thyme, unfortunately, but still – the sauce was amazing! We’re trying to cut down on carbs so we just had it with some broccoli, but the sauce would be awesome with mashed potatoes.

  26. Andrew Johnson

    Just made this dish this evening using the Belgian Chimay Beer (Blue Label) and its absolutely delicious. So good I’ve decided to make another batch to freeze.

  27. Fei

    Amazing dish and a big hit with friends! I threw in carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms too. And substituted thyme with whatever dried spices I had in the kitchen (parsley/basil). I also accidentally underestimated the cooking time so I didn’t get the fall-off-the-bone effect with the shorter cook time, but didn’t matter – it was already so flavorful. Thanks!!

  28. vc10029

    ELISE!! Thanks so much for sharing this fabulous recipe!!
    I just finished stuffing my face and absolutely had to stop to give you kudos! The weather here in New York City has been a bit across the board, but the weather for today called for something filling and delicious.
    I used Ommengang Abbey Ale, boneless thighs, a few with skin a few without. For folks who aren’t into the egg noodle, Ronzoni makes an extra wide noodle called Healthy Harvest-WHOLE GRAIN.
    Oh yeah, I added minced garlic to the onions. Yummy!

  29. Tim Cuthbertson

    I am cooking this right now. Except, I didn’t have an onion, so I used a shallot and some dried minced onion. And I couldn’t find any thyme, so I’m using Herbs de Provence. It smells wonderful. One day I will make sure I have the proper ingredients before cooking it, heh heh.

  30. Ashlee J. Williams

    I made this recipe tonight and it came out wonderfully. I used Shiner Bock Black Lager for the beer, and only one pound of onions instead of three, which was still more than enough onion for me. I had it over egg noodles, as suggested. It was delicious, and one I’ll definitely keep in my recipe book for future days.

  31. Dustin

    This is a good recipe, I have made it several times, but sweet Jesus DO NOT USE A CHIMAY in this recipe. That beer is way too delicious and WAYYYY to expensive to be used in this way. I have a used an amber ale, a brown ale and even a light stout for this in the past and it has worked great. Please do not waste a good quality brew on this recipe though. It is not necessary.

    • Elise

      I’m glad you like the recipe and I respectfully disagree with your admonition to not use a Chimay. The beer is delicious and is especially delicious in this dish. So if you want to splurge, go ahead!

  32. ruby

    Is it okay to use chicken breast? I’m not a big fan of thighs and legs so can they be substituted for the breast? And what can I use instead of dijon mustard? I live in Mexico and is a bit hard to find dijon mustard here. What else can I use?

    • Elise

      A braising recipe like this doesn’t work well with chicken breasts, which tend to dry out in the long cooking. If you can’t find Dijon, mix some powdered mustard in with a little vinegar to substitute.

  33. Ruby

    Hi Elise,
    I made this recipe but using the chicken breast. It turned out great, my family liked it! I couldn’t find dry mustard so I used regular mustard with a little bit of vinegar. The sauce was great. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  34. Gary

    OMG, let me tell you how amazing this recipe is! I used about 2 1/4 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I also used one bottle of Fat Tire pale ale. I used the Brown sugar Splenda Mix (50/50) and the aroma that came from our home was to die for…huge accolades with my partner, and not being one to “do leftovers”, it totally rocked. Served over brown rice. Another excellent recipe, thank you!!! : )

  35. Craig Peace

    I’ve just made this for my family, even though its the middle of summer. everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, not bad considering there’s 3 teenage lads , one that’s very fussy.

    thanks for the recipe

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