A light, quick, and delicious version of French onion chicken, this 5-ingredient skillet chicken recipe with loads of caramelized onions will surprise your taste buds in the best way possible!
A lighter and easier "French onion chicken"
Remember my uncle Samy, I told you about his iconic Egyptian fried boiled eggs earlier (so worth a try, by the way). Well, another signature dish of his is this simple onion chicken made with just 5 ingredients!
The gist: An easy skillet chicken recipe with loads of sweet, perfectly caramelized onions. He keeps the seasoning very simple--a good dash of salt, that's it! (I did try it recently with a dash of our baharat, which adds some interest and depth, but a different flavor profile).
If you love French onion soup, you'll enjoy this easy onion chicken. Think of it as a simpler, lighter version of French onion chicken--it has the deep oniony flavor and all the comforting vibes, with fewer ingredients and, obviously, no heavy cheese (although you can add some, if you must).
Perfectly caramelized onions are the key!
The key to this simple skillet chicken and onion recipe is in cooking the onions very well so that they are tender and deep with color and flavor.
The process begins by cooking thinly sliced onions in extra virgin olive oil, adding a good dash of kosher salt and stirring often (I like to use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet for this, at least 12-inches or larger). To get the onions to collapse nicely, releasing their juices and turning a deep golden brown color, you will cook them for a good 10 to 15 minutes. I find it helpful to cover the skillet part of the time, this traps the steam and helps the onion to release their juices quickly.
From there, the onions will remain in the pan to cook some more with the chicken, imparting their sweet, comforting, oniony flavor and creating a delicious pan juice you will not want to waste!
Ingredients: what you need for onion chicken
This simple recipe takes one skillet and only 5 staple ingredients you likely have on hand:
- Onions: 4 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced. You can also use sweet onions or even shallots, although you'll need a lot of shallots to achieve the flavor
- Extra virgin olive oil: A good 2 to 3 tablespoons to sauté and caramelize the onions and sear the chicken
- Kosher salt
- Chicken: I used 8 chicken thighs with the bone in, skin removed
- Broth or water: You need about ¼ to ½ cup of liquid to cook the chicken and help develop a delicious onion juice.
How to make onion chicken
- Cook the onions. In a large cast iron skillet, add a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons or so. Add the sliced onions and season with a good dash of kosher salt. Allow the onions, stirring often, until the onions soften some turning golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. After the first 5 minutes or so, it helps to cover the pan to trap the steam and allow the onions to really collapse and release their juices (check on them and stir occasionally). They will cook some more with the chicken later.
- Sear the chicken. Once the onions have softened and turned golden brown, push them to the edges of the skillet to make room for the chicken. Season the chicken thighs well with kosher salt on both sides and add them in. Sear on both sides until nicely browned (do not cover this time). Use a spoon or a pair of tongs to move the onions around to top the chicken.
- Cook the chicken and onions. Add about ¼ to ½ cup of broth or water, then cover the pan and cook for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through and its juices run clear (you can test this with a meat thermometer, it should register 165 degrees F when the chicken is fully cooked).
Can I use boneless thighs in this chicken recipe?
I'm a big fan of boneless thighs and use them in many of my recipes including balsamic chicken and my recent one-pan chicken and couscous. Since I'm more likely to have them on hand, I did try this recipe with boneless chicken and it works great!
You will make two simple adjustments if you use boneless chicken here instead: You may need a little bit more liquid, and be sure to adjust the cooking time; boneless chicken cooks in the skillet in about 12 to 15 minutes (again, use your thermometer to make sure the chicken is fully cooked to 165 degrees F).
Will chicken breast work in this recipe?
Sure! Chicken breast will work here, but it will take a little more attention to make sure it does not dry out.
You can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and if they are large, cut them horizontally down the middle into thinner cutlets so they will cook quickly without drying out too much. Once your onions have caramelized, add the chicken and sear one each side for about 1 minute, undisturbed, until golden brown. You will need more liquid here, so add at least ½ to ¾ cup of broth or water, lower the heat and cover the pan or skillet.
To make sure the chicken breasts remain nice and juicy, keep an eye and add more liquid if needed. Start checking for doneness at 7 to 8 minutes or so of cooking. Insert a thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken breast, and when it reads 160 degrees F, pull the chicken off the heat and allow it to rest.
Serve it with
You'll want to make every use of the delicious pan sauce by serving this dish over plain rice or with your favorite bread. The flavors go also go well with something like this roasted cauliflower salad, but you can also try crispy brussles sprouts or Italian roasted vegetables for sides.
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Skillet Onion Chicken Recipe
- 2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large onions sliced ½” thick or so
- 8 skinless chicken thighs bone-in, skin removed
- ¼ cup chicken broth or water
- Salt to taste
- Cook the onions. Heat about 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large cast iron skillet or pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions and season well with kosher salt. Sauté the onions, stirring often until they collapse and release their juices turning a beautiful deep golden brown in color, about 10 to 15 minutes (cover the pan to speed up the cooking time, if you like). Manage the heat to make sure the onions soften and caramelize without burning.
- In the meantime, season the chicken on both sides with kosher salt.
- Once the onions are nicely caramelized, push them to the edges of the pan. Add the chicken (meaty side down first) to the pan and sear on both sides until golden brown. Do not cover the pan this time. (If the onions are in the way, you can move them around and add them on top of the chicken so that there is enough room in the pan for the chicken to brown well).
- Once the chicken is nicely browned, add in the broth or water (you should have some juices in the pan from the chicken and the onions. Start with ¼ cup of liquid and add more if needed to form a sauce).
- Cover the pan and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through and a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the chicken reads 165 degrees F. Serve over rice or with pita bread (the bread with the onion sauce is delish!)
- Recipe credit: This is my Uncle Samy's signature onion chicken.
- The key to this recipe is in caramelizing the onions well. Do not rush the sautéing process, the onions need to cook down and turn a nice golden brown in color before adding the chicken to the skillet. It does help to cover the pan for a bit, this traps the steam and helps to soften the onions as they release their juices. The onions will have more time to cook with the chicken and turn sweeter and an even deeper golden brown
- To use boneless chicken thighs: Add more liquid and adjust the cooking time. Boneless chicken thighs will cook in 12 minutes or so.
- To use boneless chicken breasts: If the breasts are too thick, it helps to cut them horizontally into thinner cutlets. You'll want to watch the breasts as they can tend to dry fast. Once your onions are caramelized, add the chicken breasts in and sear for about 1 minute on each side, undisturbed, then add the liquid (you will need at least ½ cup to ¾ cup of broth, and you'll want to watch and add more as needed). Once you cover the chicken to cook, give it about 7 or 8 minutes and check for doneness. When the internal temp of the chicken is about 160 degrees F, pull it off the heat and allow it to rest for 5 minutes or so before serving. I personally prefer chicken thighs for this recipe.
- Optional Seasoning: My uncle Samy's signature onion chicken is seasoned very simply with a good dash of kosher salt, but it's also great with a dash of Baharat, a warm blend of spices, including cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon.
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