In this easy Chicken and Sweet Potato Skillet, tender-crisp chicken thighs are nestled into an autumn bounty of sweet potatoes, apples, onion, and bacon, then finished off with a finger-lickin Smoky Maple-Dijon Sauce.
TGIF you guys! Yes, I know it’s a Tuesday. I mean Thank Goodness It’s Fall.
Finally, it’s time for football, 65-degree days, apple cider– and if you’re me, listening to your Halloween playlist on repeat every day, all day.
No one can judge you during spooky season.
But not only is it spooky season, it’s also the beginning of the lesser-known “skillet season”. What’s that, you ask? It’s that time of year when you get all of the good stuff I mentioned above, but also when back-to-school, holidays, and all of the other chaos you’ve been trying to dodge all year catch up with you, and you cannot possibly fathom how you’re going to find the energy to make a satisfying, comforting, full meal for dinner. (And with all of that going on, you definitely need something comforting.)
You know the feeling. Freezer meals aren’t cutting it, and you’ve ordered out too many times this month already and you know you need a different plan. That’s when skillet season comes in. Reliable, flavorful, one-pot recipes that will impress the heck out of your family but won’t make you break a sweat.
CHICKEN AND SWEET POTATO SKILLET WITH SMOKY MAPLE-DIJON SAUCE
I’ve been fully embracing skillet season over here, happily remaking some of my go-tos like my Southwestern Chicken and Sweet Potato Skillet. In fact, I recently went to make it again when I realized that I’d forgotten to pick up a few ingredients from the store, and after getting creative with it, this Chicken and Sweet Potato Skillet with Smoky Maple-Dijon Sauce was born.
I love any one-pot meal, but this Chicken and Sweet Potato Skillet is a full meal. Incredibly flavorful meat, seasonal veggies, carbs, and even fruit in one dish. Even the sauce is incorporated into the skillet, and you just can’t beat the lack of dishes on a busy weeknight.
Not to mention, this recipe is basically the epitome of Fall. Think “stepping on a crunchy leaf in an apple orchard while sporting a flannel and a PSL milk mustache” status. Ah, like I said, TGIF.
BALANCING FLAVORS FOR FALL
Apple, maple, and sweet potato are just about as seasonal as it comes, with their rich autumn colors and plenty of natural sweetness. They can add interest, depth, and substance to Fall recipes (hence why they’re included here!) but it’s very easy for them to go from delicious to disappointingly one-note in no time. When making “fall harvest” recipes, it’s important to make sure you don’t lean too heavily on sweet, nutty ingredients without offsetting some of the sweetness with other flavors like fat, salt, and acid. Balance is key.
By beginning this recipe with chicken thighs, we start with the fat and flavor necessary for our protein to hold its own against the dish’s bossier ingredients. Next, we bring in two layers of smokiness to neutralize any cloying flavors: smoked paprika (not sweet) and old reliable, BACON. Finally, a kick of dijon mustard adds a slight bite to our sauce which plays perfectly alongside sugary maple. Finish with a gentle squeeze of fresh lemon if you’d like, and voila, you have a perfectly balanced dish!
CAN I REPLACE THE CHICKEN THIGHS?
Short answer? I don’t recommend it.
It’s easy to assume that a lean, mild meat like chicken breasts would be the logical choice in an otherwise saccharine recipe. But as I mentioned, bone-in, skin-on thighs’ strong flavor is far better at standing up to the sweet ingredients. Not to mention, they’ll turn out a crispier exterior and juicier meat for a texture you won’t want to miss.
Unfortunately, chicken thighs sometimes get a bad rap, and in my experience, people tend to be wary of them for two reasons:
- Fat Content: Chicken thighs aren’t as bad for you as you might think. A 3 oz thigh clocks in at 170 calories and 9 grams of fat. If you compare that to a boneless, skinless breast (140 calories and 3 grams of fat) you might feel a little guilty. But if you compare that same thigh to a steak or pork chop (16 and 12 grams of fat respectively) you might not feel so bad about reaching for the pack of thighs the next time you’re at the grocery store.
- Kitchen Confidence: There’s nothing worse than rubbery chicken skin, and something about a bone-in cut just seems to trip people up. Fortunately, the former is easy to avoid and the latter is actually your secret weapon. The key to perfectly crisp chicken skin is cooking it longer at a hotter temperature– that’s where the bone comes in handy, absorbing interior heat and keeping your chicken moist and juicy.
At the end of the day, however, everyone has their preferences. If you’d prefer to use boneless, skinless thighs or breasts, skip the pan frying step and coat your meat lightly in olive oil before baking for 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat. (Helpful hint: Make sure your chicken is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit by picking up a meat thermometer.)
SKILLET ADDITIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Fresh Herbs: This recipe calls for thyme, a subtle herb with light earthiness and hints of mint and lemon. If aromatic anise is more your speed, opt for French tarragon, or choose marjoram for a woodsy, floral character. If you prefer the boldness of piny, peppery rosemary, reduce the amount to 1 teaspoon and chop as finely as possible. This pronounced herb can quickly overpower a dish!
- Pork Chops: This recipe would also work wonderfully with pork, which tends to pair well with the sorts of sweet ingredients we have in this recipe (and of course, with bacon.) However, pork chops will overcook much easier than chicken thighs. If substituting, be sure to only cook your pork chops to 145° F for the best results.
- Squash or Pumpkin: I recommend sweet potatoes for this dish, and they are by far the easiest to find. Though they’re not quite as sweet and complex, ~2 cups of diced butternut squash or pumpkin will offer the same pleasant color and won’t require you to adjust the cooking time.
MORE SKILLET RECIPES
- Easy Enchilada Skillet
- Skillet Cheddar-Cornbread BBQ Chicken Pot Pie
- Saucy Skillet Chicken Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Peppers
- Harissa-Lime Chicken and Couscous Skillet
- Southwestern Chicken and Sweet Potato Skillet
- Sizzling Broccoli, Cheddar, and Chicken Skillet
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
- 4 (about 1.5 pounds) bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 apple, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels and season generously all over with salt and pepper. In a wide, shallow bowl, combine the flour and smoked paprika. Dredge the thighs in the flour mixture to get a light coating and set aside. Reserve the seasoned flour for later.
- In a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp and the fat has rendered out, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Leave the rendered bacon fat in the pan.
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Working in batches if necessary, add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook, undisturbed, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about 6 minutes. Flip and cook 2 to 3 more minutes, then transfer to the plate with the bacon.
- Return the skillet to medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, apples, garlic, and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of the reserved flour.
- Add the chicken broth, dijon mustard, and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring often, deglaze the pan, and let thicken.
- Add the chicken and bacon back, and place in the oven for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Squeeze over fresh lemon juice and serve warm.
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