First dates are always a little overwhelming. Theres a little excitement, a little nervousness, and a whole lot of “what if”s floating around. About two months ago, I went on a first date to a restaurant I have loved for a long time: Tupelo Honey.Tupelo Honey is a fantastic little place where southern meets gourmet, and nothing on that menu exhibits that blend as well as my dinner that night. I was both excited and intrigued to order the Sweet Tea Chicken. Despite the fact that I have eaten at Tupelo Honey countless times, I had never seen Sweet Tea Chicken on the menu. The curiosity was nearly unbearable, and I knew I had to experience chicken and sweet tea in one dish. Move over Bojangles, theres a new, more sophisticated, southern duo in town.
This chicken is juicy, its sweet, its savory…it’s absolute heaven. Needless to say, I loved that meal. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be recreating it for you here! It’s a magical blend of the earthy notes of black tea, a slight sweetness, a little bit of a saltiness, and some mustard notes too. When I tell you this is the best chicken I have had in a long time, I am not exaggerating. This chicken is well worth the somewhat involved prep. This meal is definitely one which you plan to eat…tomorrow. That’s right, this perfect chicken is a meal for tomorrow because you want to let this chicken brine for 14 hours.
So, now that the bad news is out of the way, let’s get started on this chicken, shall we?
First things first, brew some tea! I used about 5 tea bags for 10 cups of water. I wanted a strong brew for the flavors. Once you have a boil going, add the tea bags and the peel of one lemon. If you can do the pretty little spiral of a peel like I did, it makes for a beautiful presentation later. Let the tea brew for about 6-8 minutes with the lemon peel.
Remove the tea bags and toss them. Keep that lemon peel in there, and then add one cup of kosher salt and one cup of white sugar. You are essentially making a sweet tea with a terrible amount of salt because its also a brine (and brines are notoriously salty). You want the salt and the sugar to dissolve before the tea cools. Then once the tea is cooled to about room temperature, add about 5 sprigs of thyme, 6 or so cloves of garlic, and your chicken thighs. I used bone-in thighs with skin because the skin is so delicious once its been baked, and the bone helps it to stay juicy.
Let that chicken soak for 14 hours.
Go to bed, wake up, run some errands, and come back to me.
Turn your oven to 375 and retrieve your chicken. After the chicken is fully brined, pull those thighs out and put them in a baking dish. I used a casserole dish here. Just make sure the chicken doesn’t touch one another because it won’t cook as evenly. I rubbed the bottom of my tray with a little olive oil to make sure it wouldn’t stick to the dish. After I fished out the chicken thighs, I took that lemon rind, the thyme, and the garlic cloves, and put those in the tray with the chicken to roast. SAVE 2 CUPS OF THE BRINE!
Don’t toss it all out at this point, even if it is super gross because raw chicken has been floating in it for hours. Whatever you do, do not drink the brine. Cut up one lemon into thin slices and place the slices between the chicken thighs. You could put them on top of the chicken for a very special presentation, but I wanted to make sure that skin was nice and brown and you could see the sauce you’re about to make. Roast the chicken for about 30 minutes. Use those 2 cups of chicken brine to make a sauce! Put the sauce in a saucepan over medium heat and let it get to a boil. Once the brine is at a boil, add about 2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar.
I used a grainy bourbon mustard I found at Harris Teeter and it was fantastic! Turn the heat down a little and cook until thickened.
Spoon the brine and mustard sauce you made over the chicken after it has cooked for about 45 minutes, and then put it back in the oven to bake for another 30 minutes.
After the chicken has cooked for a total of about 1 hour and 15 minutes, cut into one of the chicken thighs. It should show no pink and be ever so tender. In fact, it may just fall off the bone. Now, I guarantee that chicken is smelling good. That is the smell of a job well done. Pat yourself on the back!
I served my chicken alongside mashed potatoes. I think it would be delicious with macaroni and cheese, brussel sprouts, carrots, or broccoli, but you should serve it with whatever side your heart desires!
I wanna see what you made! Post your creation to Instagram with the hashtag #MyDinnerDesigner so we can all marvel at your creation.
Sweet Tea Chicken
This sweet tea chicken checks off every box. It's sweet, savory, and juicy. You'll be glad you made it for your friends and family.
- 8 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin
- 10 cups of water
- 5 tea bags (I used Lipton)
- Two lemons (one for it’s peel, one for the slices to bake)
- 6 cloves of garlic
- fresh thyme (about 5 sprigs)
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1 tbsp of unsalted butter
- 1 cup of white sugar
- 2 tbsp of grainy mustard (I used a Bourbon Grainy Mustard
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- Boil 10 cups of water, add the tea bags and peel of one lemon.
- Add the salt, sugar, garlic, and thyme. Allow to cool.
- Add chicken once cooled, add to brine and allow to soak for 14 hours.
- Heat oven to 375. Remove chicken from brine and put into a casserole dish with some non-stick spray or oil. Take the lemon peel, garlic, and thyme from the brine and scatter among the chicken. Bake for 45 minutes.
- While chicken is baking, add 2 cups of the brine to a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mustard, butter, and brown sugar. Cook until thickened.
- Remove chicken from oven and spoon the sauce over each thigh. Return to the oven.
- Cook chicken for another 30 Minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.