Use It or Lose It! Drunken Cherry Chicken

drunken cherry chickenIn addition to my main stores in the garage pantry, I keep a small stash of jarred goods in a corner of one of my way-too-deep and inconveniently-high kitchen cabinets (the extra-convenient one above the fridge). I was pawing through the jars the other day (balanced precariously on the invaluable kitchen step stool), hoping I could avoid a snowy trip downstairs to pick up a jar of salsa, when I unearthed a dusty jar of drunken cherries: from 2009. Oops.

While I have no doubt that acidic cherries sitting in a bath of booze & sugar for four years are still safe to eat (in terms of botulism or other nasties) and the seal was still intact, the color of the fruit was decidedly the worse for wear, and I suspected the texture had suffered similarly. It seemed best to use up these old beauties in something cooked; perhaps something savory. Add to that the fact that I had a whole chicken sitting in the refrigerator that had been there for nearly a week and really needed to be cooked and, well: you can see how Drunken Cherry Chicken was born.

I’ll never be able to thank Jamie Oliver enough for sharing the trick of a good, solid browning of a whole chicken before putting it in to braise. It not only makes the skin that much more delightful in the final bird, it adds so very much savory flavor to the reduction sauce: you can practically throw anything in there with the bird and it will turn out beautifully. So, please, whatever you do, don’t skimp on that step: yes, it takes 15 minutes, but they are 15 very worthwhile minutes, and once they’re complete, you’re nearly ready to pop the bird in the oven and ignore it for 45 more. Plenty of time to clean up, make some rice, and pour yourself a cocktail. While you have the bottle out and all.

drunken cherry chickenDrunken Cherry Chicken


  • 1 whole chicken, about 3 lbs
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled & sliced
  • 1 scant tsp chipotle chile flakes
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 pint drunken cherries, with juice
  • 1 pint water
  • 1 cup whiskey (or port wine, brandy or other brown liquor)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • rice or other grain, for serving (I used a soft, slightly sticky Arborio rice: it was lovely)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Rinse and pat dry the chicken (or don’t, as you like). Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt and allow to rest, open to the air and at room temperature, while you prep the remaining ingredients.
  2. Brown chicken. In a medium (5-quart) Dutch oven, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until butter foam subsides. Carefully add the chicken (oil will spit), breast-side down, and allow to fry in the oil, without disturbing, until skin is nicely browned, 3 – 5 minutes. Using two sturdy wooden spatulas, carefully turn the bird to brown all sides, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a clean plate and pour off all but 1 tbsp of the fat (reserve remaining fat for another recipe).
  3. Sauté vegetables. Add onions and garlic to the pot and stirring, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat and sauté vegetables until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add chipotle and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add balsamic, cherries + juice, water and whiskey, scraping the bottom of the pot once again. Raise heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Return chicken to the pot, add a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
  4. Braise chicken. Cover pot and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise chicken until cooked through (internal temperature at the breast reads at least 170 degrees F), about 45 minutes. Remove lid from pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking for a crispier skin, or raise oven temperature to broil for the last 5 minutes of cooking and keep close watch on the chicken skin to prevent burning. Remove chicken from pot and allow to rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes prior to carving.
  5. Reduce sauce & serve. Meanwhile, bring the sauce in the pot to a boil over high heat and boil, stirring occasionally, until volume is reduced by about 3/4 and sauce is syrupy, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings: add a bit of sugar or honey if it needs sweetening, some salt, pepper, chipotle or balsamic if it needs a bit of a kick. I added about 2 tbsp raw sugar. Ladle sauce over chicken and serve with rice, potato or other grain, or with a simple green salad.

Serves 4.

drunken cherry chickenOPTIONS

  1. One teaspoon of chipotle flakes gave this a nice smokiness with a healthy, but not overwhelming, kick of spice. Adjust amounts according to your palate. Smoked paprika is a nice lower-heat option.
  2. So you say you didn’t put up any drunken cherries last summer? What were you thinking? But, never fear: substitute 2 cups (about 1 lb) fresh or frozen cherries and add an extra cup of your booze of choice. You may want to add some sugar for sweetness and/or thickening at the reducing stage.
  3. What’s that? You don’t have drunken cherries or a stash of frozen cherries? How do you live? Seems like this recipe will adapt to any boozy fruit concoction you can dream up. Just know that when it comes to fruit + booze + meat, it’s hard to go wrong.


Refrigerated for up to 3 days.




  1. thatoldschoolgirl

    Do you think I can use the fruit from a friendship cake starter:

    1 cup cubed pineapple
    1 cup sugar
    2 tablespoons brandy
    1 cup maraschino cherries including juice
    1 cup sugar
    2 tablespoons brandy
    1 cup sliced canned peaches including juice
    1 cup sugar
    2 tablespoons brandy

    Today I need to drain off the juice from the fruit and have no idea what to use the fruit for.

    • Sure, why not give it a go? Sounds like it could be a bit sweet, so I would up the acid a bit (add more vinegar, or some lemon juice), and rather than balsamic & chipotle, I would think wine vinegar and a Thai chile, or cinnamon stick if that’s your thing. Taste the juice and see what flavors you think will go best in the chicken dish, knowing you’ll be adding a bit of salt & savory to the mix. Let us know how it goes!

    • Do you know, I’ve never actually had pheasant? But I bet you’re right: the reduction sauce is so amazingly savory, it’s practically got a life of its own. It would stand up well to game meats, I think.

      • My French Heaven

        Yes pheasant has a more pronounced taste than chicken. That’s why I think that the sauce would be perfect, as it wouldn’t overpower the taste of the meat. Pheasant is also quite dry. It needs stuffing. A good stuffing with that sauce would be absolute heaven!!!

  2. It’s true, how could you go wrong with fruit+booze+meat?! This sounds amazing, I will definitely have to try it out. I live in Michigan so I’m pretty sure I’m legally obligated to make drunken cherries.

  3. I am definitely going to do the browning method the next time I do chicken – I brown beef first, never thought to do a whole chicken like that though!

  4. twicecookedhalfbaked

    I have often discovered a jar long forgotten. I like to through mine into a braised pork, more often than not, but I like this idea with chicken. Looks yummy!

  5. Thanks for this, Kaela. Following your lead, I’ll see what becomes of a chicken and a jar of the Ranpur aigre-doux I just did. Also, I remember when you made those drunken cherries!

    • You know, I actually thought of your aigre-doux, as it has got all the same components: fruit, vinegar, bit of sweet. And SCD-friendly! Over salad greens of course. Or the ubiquitous cauliflower. 🙂

      • Shae

        Oh, cauliflower. At least it’s not zucchini. Anything but zucchini. I’m going to do a Meyer aigre-doux, too, with white wine instead of red, which will probably be amazing with chicken. And you know I meant Rangpur. Of course you did. 🙂

  6. Cinnamon

    Just made this with some frozen plums I had on hand, as well as a jar of port plums and some brandy and it is delicious. Thank you for the wonderful recipe (and the browning tip!).

  7. This post couldn’t come at a better time – I too have boozy cherries that I know I need to use up, like pronto! One question: Sometimes when I try to brown my whole chicken, the skin sticks to the surface. Am I not getting the pan hot enough before I set it into the dutch oven? Or am I not using enough olive oil/butter? I currently use about 2 T. Thanks!

    • I would guess you need to use more fat. I’ve done this several times now, and in my 5-quart Dutch oven, found that 6 tbsp is the minimum that allows me to get a good browning on the whole chicken (you’d likely need more in a larger or wider pot). I then pour off the excess fat and save it for another recipe, so there is no real waste: it’s great for home fries, mashed potatoes, sauteed onions, etc. Also, make sure you are waiting at least 3 minutes (if not 5) before you try to move the bird for the first time. The more the browning is allowed to develop, the less likely the skin is to stick when you try to move it.

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