How to Make Easy Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts With Bourbon-Mustard Pan Sauce

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Bourbon and mustard add intensity to this pan sauce. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Here's a secret: Technique-based cooking, as opposed to recipe-based cooking, is the key to really expanding your weeknight dinner options and freeing yourself to experiment in the kitchen. This juicy chicken with an intense bourbon and mustard pan sauce is living proof of that. Let me demonstrate.

Last week, I showed you how to make a quick and easy pan-roasted chicken breast with a white wine and herb pan sauce. The secrets were to start with a bone-in airline chicken breast, searing it in a hot skillet and finishing it in the oven with the help of a thermometer (to ensure juiciness), then to make a simple pan sauce while the chicken rests using the chicken drippings, a few aromatics, butter, and store-bought chicken broth to which I've added a bit of powdered gelatin (the gelatin guarantees a smooth, rich emulsion).

But that article wasn't just a recipe description. It was a blueprint for how to build any pan sauce, whether it's for chicken, pork, or vegetables. Once you know the key steps—sweat aromatics in drippings, add liquid with gelatin, finish with butter—you can go as crazy as you'd like with the flavors.

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For instance, my white wine and herb pan sauce started by sweating shallots and garlic in chicken drippings, but in this case I'm going to forgo the garlic in order to make room for some other bolder flavors. While the original recipe used white wine, here I'm going to add a big slug of bourbon to my pan, giving the sauce sweetness and a strong woodsy flavor.

In both recipes, I pour in chicken stock with some powdered gelatin added to it, but this time, I'm also going to add a healthy dollop of whole grain mustard, which adds some heat to balance out that sweetness from the bourbon.

From there on out, it's pretty much straight-shooting until the end: Both sauces are finished with a squirt of soy sauce (for an umami flavor boost), and some fresh herbs (plain parsley in this case). For this sauce, I also add a little squeeze of lemon juice to brighten up the flavor just before pouring it all over and around the chicken.

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Now do you see what I mean? Exact same technique, but an altogether different meal. Serve this with some roasted vegetables or a simple salad and your weeknight dinner suddenly becomes a lot less mundane.

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To paraphrase my favorite infomercial host: Stop having a boring chicken, stop having a boring life.