Smothered French Onion Chicken combines tender chicken breast, caramelized onions, and gooey melted cheese for a comfort food experience like no other. The sweet and savory onions perfectly complement the chicken breast in a rich sauce that’s then topped with shredded gruyere cheese.
We use common, pantry-friendly ingredients and simple steps to make this restaurant-quality recipe accessible to all levels of the home cook. You’re gonna impress with this recipe for sure!
What is Smothered French Onion Chicken?
Smothered chicken is a traditional Southern American dish where seasoned chicken is slowly cooked in a flavorful gravy or sauce.
“French onion” typically refers to French Onion Soup, a classic French dish known for its rich and savory flavors. French onion soup is made by slowly carmelizing onions and then adding broth or stock before it’s topped with Gruyere cheese, which is a type of Swiss cheese.
Our smothered French onion chicken takes the best of both of these dishes to create an amazing meal using boneless, skinless chicken breasts smothered in a caramelized onion sauce and then topped with melty cheese. Oh my goodness! This dish is seriously something to behold.
Equipment and Ingredients
This simple stovetop recipe will all take place in one heavy-bottomed pan with a cover. You can use a cast iron pan or any good pan of about 3-5 quarts. I like to use a good quality pan because it helps with heat distribution and even cooking.
The stars of this recipe are the chicken breast, onions and gruyere cheese. We’ll want to use 4, boneless, skinless chicken breasts of about ½ inch thick and around 4-6oz each. Most chicken breasts are pretty thick, so you can easily take 2 and slice them in half horizontally. Additionally, you can pound them thin with a meat mallet which helps tenderize them as well.
We’ll get our flavors from chicken broth, fresh thyme, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Some all-purpose flour will help us to sear the chicken and also thicken the sauce.
We start by giving the chicken a quick seasoning of salt and pepper and then a dip in some flour. Not too much flour, just a quick dip to coat them before shaking off any excess.
Now heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat and cook the chicken on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. We’re not heating the chicken all the way through, just getting a nice golden sear. Then we’ll set the chicken aside on a plate while we do the onions.
With the chicken set aside, reduce the heat in the pan to medium and add the onions. All of them. Stir them around to get them coated in the remaining oil and let them do their magic.
The key to carmelizing onions
Ah, the amazing taste, flavor, and texture of caramelized onions. It truly is a culinary joy and is the backbone of so many great recipes, including this one. There’s a couple of different approaches to attaining optimal caramelized onions. Low and very slow is a tried and true method, but for this recipe, we don’t want to spend half a day on the slow method. We’ll use a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. The key to cooking onions at a higher temperature is to actually not stir them too frequently (only when they begin to brown). The built-up steam/moisture from within the top layer of the onions then naturally “deglazes” the pan as you stir it.
When the onions reach their desired golden hue, it’s time to stir in the 2 tablespoons of flour. Just lightly sprinkle over the onions and stir until no lumps remain in the flour. The onions will absorb the flour and become quite thick. This is fine because we’ll now add broth and vinegar. After adding the liquids, scrape the bottom of the pot to get up any remaining fond (stuck on bits). There’s lots of flavor there! Stir in the thyme now as well.
It’s time to return those chicken breasts to the skillet. Go ahead and nestle them in the onions and liquid and reduce the heat so the mixture simmers. Cover and let simmer until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F, probably around 5 minutes. But we’re not quite done yet. Add that shredded cheese to each chicken breast and cover for another 1 minute until the cheese is melted. Oh boy… it’s getting real now!
Turn off the heat and let the sauce thicken for a couple of minutes. You’re then ready to serve!
Frequently Asked Questions
While Gruyere cheese is one of the keys to making the recipe “French onion”, we sometimes may need to find a substitute. In this case, the very best substitute is to shred some Swiss cheese. The flavor profile of Swiss works very well in place of Gruyere.
Dried thyme is much more potent than fresh thyme. Use half the amount and add any additional to taste. That said, I highly recommend trying it with fresh. It’s such a wonderful herb and the flavor brings the dish to life.