Cherry Chili Chicken with Dipping Sauce

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

For some it’s a rabbit’s foot. For others it’s a lucky penny. For me it’s Cherry Chili Chicken. My lucky recipe was Aunt Hilda’s specialty, her decades-old signature dish, eagerly anticipated by all (although she just called it “holiday chicken”—I always was a sucker for alliteration). Sweet yet zippy, pretty plump cherries peeking through the piquant sauce, Aunt Hilda’s holiday chicken ushered in countless New Years, heralded scores of birthdays, and graced many a holiday table. When the self-published Melting Pot Memories first came out, I noticed a very strange thing. Everyone who told me they were trying the recipes seemed to start with the same one. How odd is that! You guessed it—it was the now renamed Cherry Chili Chicken. Then four food editors who featured my book in their various publications also selected the Cherry Chili Chicken to highlight their holiday stories. So forgive me if I attribute magical powers to this recipe! But where did it come from, I wondered. After much research, I found a similar recipe called Chicken Jubilee in that fifties classic, long out of print, called Thoughts for Buffets. Did Aunt Hilda own that book? Cousins Bonnie and Jackie don’t remember it. We’ll never know.

Optional dipping sauce for latkes: For Hanukkah--and do we really have to wait for this holiday to have latkes?--use the warm reduction as a dipping sauce, a nice change from applesauce. Even if you’re not serving Cherry Chili Chicken, you can create a sauce that’s almost as good. Slice the cherries and combine them with their liquid, the raisins, wine, chili sauce, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Reduce this mixture over medium-high heat until it’s as thick as you like it, about 20 minutes.


Cooking Methodroasting


Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course


Taste and Texturefruity, hot & spicy, meaty, savory


  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1 can (16½ ounces) pitted black cherries, undrained
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 chickens (3 to 4 pounds), each cut into 8 pieces, rinsed and patted dry
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Paprika to taste
  • Kosher (coarse) salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 2 bottles (12 ounces each) chili sauce, such as Heinz
  • 1/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar


  1. Put the raisins in a small bowl and pour the juice from the canned cherries over them. Set aside.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Scatter the onion slices over the bottom of a large baking pan or roasting pan. Set the pan aside.

  3. Season the chicken with garlic powder, paprika, and salt and pepper.

  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it is quite hot but not smoking. Add the chicken, in batches, and cook until browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side, adding the remaining oil 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. As the chicken pieces brown, arrange them, skin side up, on top of the onions in the baking pan.

  5. Remove the skillet from the heat and discard all the oil. Add ½ cup of the sherry to the skillet and scrape up all the brown bits. Stir in the chili sauce, brown sugar, ¼ cup water, and the plumped raisins with the cherry juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then pour it over the chicken. Roast, uncovered, basting occasionally, for 25 minutes.

  6. Pour the remaining ½ cup sherry around the chicken, distribute the cherries throughout the pan, and baste. Roast, basting occasionally, until cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.

  7. Transfer the chicken to a warm serving platter and cover to keep warm. Strain the liquid into a medium-size saucepan, reserving the solids. Bring the strained sauce to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until reduced by about one third, or until thick, 8 to 10 minutes (longer if you like a thicker sauce).

  8. Spoon the onions, cherries, and raisins over the chicken, and pass the sauce.



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