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Creamy Caramelized Onion Chicken

Creamy Balsamic Caramelized Onion Chicken is here for those of us who can’t get enough of caramelized onions and enjoy a creamy sauce. This simple and unique healthy dinner recipe results in tender chicken that’s loaded with rustic flavors.

Dutch oven full of chicken thighs with a cream sauce. Golden napkin and fresh thyme to the side.

This Dutch oven chicken recipe was born out of a random craving for the combination of caramelized onions and chicken. The burning desire presented itself (more like smacked me in the frontal lobe) a couple weeks ago and was lingering in my mind until I had a chance to make it.

I assumed it would go one of two ways. A fun little thought experiment that was worth a try, or a dish I would make multiple times.

As suspected, the caramelized onion sauce was a game changer. Similar to French onion soup, we get that deep, rich onion flavor that tastes familiar and comforting. For caramelized onion lovers like me, this one is worthy of repeating.

I was looking for a balance of many understated flavors that don’t outshine each other, and I feel that is exactly what we get with this recipe.

We have delicious chicken with familiar garlic and onion, a touch of tang and citrus with a slight sweet flavor that almost goes unnoticed. 

I love that the caramelized onions get their time in the limelight but don’t overpower the dish such that you don’t taste anything else.

While this recipe requires more time to prepare than most of my dinner recipes (due to the long time it takes to caramelize an onion), it can be made in steps. For instance, you can caramelize the onion a few days ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to prepare the meal.

Similarly, you can make the caramelized onion sauce ahead of time and cook the chicken using your preferred cooking method when you’re ready to eat.

If you love the concept of this recipe, also try my One-Pot Creamy Chicken and Potatoes which is a complete meal.

The natural sweetness from the caramelized onions combined with the creamy tangy sauce hits all the spots on the palate.

Chicken on top of cauliflower rice with green beans.

Let’s discuss the simple ingredients for caramelized onion chicken.

Ingredients for Creamy Balsamic Caramelized Onion Chicken:

Bone-in Skin-On Chicken Thighs: Pick up three pounds of skin-on chicken thighs. Boneless skinless chicken thighs and boneless skinless chicken breasts work too and will take less time to cook.

I like using bone-in thighs because they turn out more tender than other cuts of chicken. 

Yellow Onions: One of the key ingredients here, one large yellow onion gets caramelized to golden brown perfection, which infuses the chicken with a delicious bold yet silky smooth flavor.

Avocado Oil: Used to sauté the onion and brown the chicken, we need a quality high-temperature cooking oil. I like avocado oil because it is a good source of healthy fats and has a high smoke point.

While I don’t recommend olive oil because it has a lower smoke point and has a tendency to burn at higher temperatures, you can use it if it’s what you have on hand. 

Fresh Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves add irresistible flavor to the chicken and pair nicely with the caramelized onions.

Full-Fat Canned Coconut Milk: To make a simple dairy-free creamy sauce, we use some full-fat canned coconut milk. For the best results, be sure to use full-fat coconut milk from the can and don’t try replacing it with anything else.

Does the sauce taste like coconut? No. Unless you have otherworldly taste buds, you won’t taste the coconut milk.

You can replace the coconut milk with chicken broth if you’re okay with the sauce not being creamy. 

Balsamic Vinegar: A little balsamic vinegar gets added in with the sauce to provide a rich tangy flavor.

I recommend sticking with a high-quality balsamic vinegar for the best flavor. If you prefer soy sauce, replace the balsamic with soy.

Honey: A touch of honey adds additional sweetness to the sauce to offset the acidity of the vinegar and lemon zest.

You can skip this ingredient if you stay away from added sweeteners, although it’s a very small amount.

Lemon Zest: Fresh lemon zest adds another tasty nuance to the sauce to tease the palate. If you want a lot of lemon flavor to shine through, use the zest of two or three lemons instead of one.

I recommend adding more zest over adding lemon juice for the best lemon flavor.

Sea Salt and Pepper: Add sea salt and pepper to your personal taste!

Recipe Customizations:

  • Add ¼ cup of dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc if you enjoy cooking with wine.
  • You can add additional goodies like sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, etc. to bump up the flavor even more.
  • Add 5 ounces of baby spinach at the end of cooking to bring an infusion of veggies to the meal.
  • For a hint of spice, add a shake of red pepper flakes.
  • If you don’t have fresh garlic on hand, add 2 teaspoons of garlic powder to the sauce.
  • Add in fresh herbs like fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, or fresh basil if you’d like.
  • For a honey mustard vibe, add 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard to the sauce.
  • Heavy cream can be used as a replacement for full-fat coconut milk. I don’t recommend using a lower fat milk like half & half or regular milk because both can separate when heated to a boil. 
  • Replace the honey with brown sugar.
  • ​Bake the chicken in a baking dish rather than cooking it on the stove top. Make the caramelized onion sauce on the stove top to serve over the chicken.
  • If you have a whole chicken, feel free to butcher it and turn this into a whole chicken recipe.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s make this easy and delicious chicken recipe.

How to Make Caramelized Onion Chicken:

Open the can of coconut milk and transfer the whole can (including the coconut cream and water) to a jar or microwave safe bowl, measuring cup, or container.

Microwave for 30 to 60 seconds, or until the coconut cream has melted and the coconut milk is creamy.

Note: if there is no separation in your can of coconut milk, you can skip this step. Coconut milk only hardens when it has been sitting at a cold temperature.

Pour one cup of the coconut milk into a small bowl or measuring cup along with the balsamic vinegar and honey. Mix until well combined and set aside until ready to use.

Heat the avocado oil in a large pot such as a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. You can also use a large skillet as long as it has a deep lip and a lid.

Add the sliced onions and sprinkle it with a little sea salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn slightly brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Onions sautéing in a large pot in the bacon fat.

Lower the heat to medium heat or medium-low and continue sautéing the onion until it is very soft and a deeper golden brown color, about 40 more minutes. This process requires a great deal of time so if the onion begins to look too brown or crispy, lower the heat, stir more frequently, or add more oil to protect the onions from burning.

While the onion is caramelizing, remove the chicken from its packaging and place it on a large plate or cutting board. Pat any excess moisture off of the chicken thighs with paper towels. Sprinkle it with sea salt and black pepper. Allow it to sit at room temperature as the onion cooks. 

Chicken thighs on a plate sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Once the onion has caramelized, transfer it to a bowl and set it aside until ready to use. Place the pot back on the stove top. If needed, add more avocado oil to the pot to brown the chicken. 

Caramelized onions in a bowl.

Increase the heat to medium-high and allow the pot to heat back up for a few minutes.

Place chicken thighs on the hot surface skin-side down in a single layer and brown for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the skin is a nice golden brown and crispy. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to do this in two batches. Simply transfer the first batch of browned chicken to a plate while you’re cooking the second batch.

Browned chicken in a Dutch oven for caramelized onion chicken.

Place all of the chicken pieces back in the pot (if it isn’t there already) along with the caramelized onions. 

Pile of browned chicken thighs in a Dutch oven.
Caramelized onions and chicken in a Dutch oven.

Pour in the sauce, then cover the Dutch oven with the lid.

Pouring liquid into a Dutch oven with chicken.

Cook on medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken thighs reaches at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to take the internal temperature. 

Serve caramelized onion chicken with your favorite side dishes, and enjoy! I recommend serving it with something to sop up the sauce like rice, cauliflower rice, or mashed potatoes. I made my air fryer green beans and cauliflower rice to go with the chicken.

Creamy Dutch oven caramelized onion chicken.

Spoon extra sauce over the Dutch oven chicken thighs for a flavorful meal. Garnish with a little bit of fresh thyme and a generous amount of grated gruyere cheese (if you do cheese).

My Lemon Garlic Rosemary Rice and Garlic Herb Roasted Vegetables make the perfect pairings as well.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

For crispy skin, place the chicken on a large baking sheet and broil for 3 to 8 minutes in the oven or until the skin crisps back up.

Chicken thigh with caramelized onions on top with cauliflower rice and green beans in a bowl, ready to eat.

Delicious enough for a special occasion yet simple enough to prepare for weeknight dinner, this simple recipe is worth the time it takes to prepare it. 

Perhaps the best part is the chicken becomes more flavorful the next day. This is a great way to meal prep and feed the whole family by cooking once and having leftover for more meals.

Close up chicken thighs with caramelized onions on top.

If you love this French onion chicken recipe, be sure to try out some of these reader favorites.

More Healthy Chicken Recipes:

Enjoy these juicy chicken thighs the next time you’re craving that deep caramelized onion flavor.

Dutch oven full of chicken thighs with a cream sauce. Golden napkin and fresh thyme to the side.
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4.71 from 17 votes

Caramelized Onion Dutch Oven Chicken

The ideal chicken recipe for those who love the flavor of caramelized onion! The dairy-free cream sauce is everything here! Serve it up with steamed rice, roasted vegetables, or mashed potatoes for a complete meal.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Course: Chicken Main Dishes, Main Dishes
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 Servings
Calories: 383kcal
Author: Julia

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp avocado oil or more if needed*
  • 1 large yellow onion thinly sliced
  • 3 lbs bone-in skin-on chicken thighs about 8 thighs
  • 1 tsp sea salt to taste
  • ½ tsp black pepper to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 1.5 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme

Instructions

  • Heat the avocado oil in a large pot such as a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. You can also use a large skillet as long as it has a deep lip and a lid.
  • Add the sliced onions and sprinkle it with a little sea salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn slightly brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium heat or medium-low and continue sautéing the onion until it is very soft and a deeper golden brown color, about 40 more minutes. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant. If the onion begins to look too brown or crispy, lower the heat, stir more frequently, or add more oil to protect the onions from burning.
  • While the onion is caramelizing, remove the chicken from its packaging and place it on a large plate or cutting board. Pat any excess moisture off of the chicken thighs with paper towels. Sprinkle it with sea salt and black pepper. Allow it to sit at room temperature as the onion cooks.
  • In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the canned coconut milk, balsamic vinegar, honey, and lemon zest. Set aside until ready to use.
  • Once the onion has caramelized, transfer it to a bowl and set it aside until ready to use. Place the pot back on the stove top. If needed, add more avocado oil to the pot to brown the chicken.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and allow the pot to heat back up for a few minutes.
  • Place chicken thighs on the hot surface skin-side down in a single layer and brown for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the skin is a nice golden brown and crispy. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. This may need to be done in two batches depending on the size of your pot.
  • Once all of the chicken is browned, add the caramelized onions to the pot and pour in the sauce.
  • Cover the pot with a lid and cook over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken thighs reaches at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to take the internal temperature.
  • Serve caramelized onion chicken with your favorite side dishes, and enjoy!

Notes

*After caramelizing the onion, you may need to add more avocado oil to brown the chicken.

Nutrition

Serving: 1Serving (of 8) | Calories: 383kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 276mg | Sodium: 469mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g

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Recipe Rating




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Annette

Saturday 6th of January 2024

Where is the lemon zest and garlic used in the recipe?

Annette

Saturday 6th of January 2024

@Julia,

Thank you for your quick reply 😊

Julia

Saturday 6th of January 2024

Hi Annette! Thanks so much for catching that! I add the garlic in at the end of caramelizing the onion and I mix the lemon zest in with the coconut milk mixture. I just updated the recipe to reflect these changes. Hope you enjoy! xo

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