Chicken with Grapes, Garlic, and Red Vermouth

Being a somewhat less than hip septuagenarian, I wasn’t familiar until recently with the phrase “Winner winner, chicken dinner” that’s often used at casinos to celebrate a victory. But after hitting the jackpot with last night’s chicken dish, my better half thought it an apt expression to accompany a toast.

The recipe, “Sweet Chicken Surprise,” is from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients cookbook, which has become for us a go-to source for quick and easy dinners. And while the word “sweet” may lead one to think this might be similar to a barbecue or Asian dish, it’s anything but. A combination of red vermouth and seedless grapes provides a subtle sweetness that’s made even deeper and more complex by an abundance of unpeeled garlic cloves that roast along with the chicken in a moderate oven.

I found that the recipe’s 350°F roasting temperature rendered chicken thighs that were more succulent and juicier than those I typically roast on a sheet pan at 450°F. Perfectly browned and crisp skin is ensured by quickly frying the chicken skin-side down on the stove top before putting it into the oven.

For the recipe’s two 7-ounce chicken legs, I substituted four large, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and used red seedless grapes rather than mixed-color. I also added 5 minutes to the called for 40 minutes of roasting and, after removing the chicken, placed the pan with grapes and the garlic under the broiler for several minutes to shrivel the grapes and darken the garlic for added flavor. Finally, after removing the pan from the oven, I placed it on the stove top over high heat for a couple of minutes to concentrate the sauce. Here’s a link to original recipe online.

I’m sure this delicious dish will find its way back to our table before too long; rich in flavor with minimal effort, it’s perfect for a busy weeknight supper, a sure bet, a home run.

Sweet Chicken Surprise (adapted from 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver)


4 large, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 bulb of garlic
10 ounces red seedless grapes
6 tablespoons red vermouth
4 sprigs of fresh tarragon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Put a non-stick ovenproof frying pan on a high heat. Rub the chicken all over with ½ a tablespoon of olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper, and place skin side down in the pan.

Oiled chicken
Seasoned chicken

3. Fry the chicken for 6 to 7 minutes until golden.

Frying the chicken

4. Lightly squash all the unpeeled garlic cloves from the bulb with the heel of your hand and add to the pan.

Lightly crushing the garlic

5. Add the picked grapes to the pan.

Chicken added along with grapes and garlic

6. Turn the chicken skin side up, pour in the vermouth and transfer to the oven to roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the chicken is golden and tender, and the sauce is sticky and reduced.

Adding the vermouth
Ready for the oven

7. To shrivel the grapes and darken the garlic for more flavor, remove the chicken and pan and place the pan with grapes and the garlic under the broiler for a few minutes. Watch closely.

Grapes and garlic after the broiler

8. Remove the pan from the oven and place on medium high heat. Add a splash of water, the tarragon, and cook for a few minutes, scraping up any sticky bits, and reduce the sauce.

Adding tarragon and reducing the sauce
Sauce reduced

9. Lightly sauce the chicken and serve on heated plates.

Plated dish

Wine Pairing: Beaujolais-Villages, Merlot

7 thoughts on “Chicken with Grapes, Garlic, and Red Vermouth

  1. Oh boy, Roland, you really made Tricia’s day with this recipe! She’s made a grape chicken for years, dating back to when we were first married almost 20 years ago. But she’s shied away from it for the last several years, as it took hours to bake and used grape juice, a uni-ingredient that we usually ended up throwing out the rest of. However, your version is both quicker and uses vermouth Vice grape juice, so she (and me!) are thrilled and will definitely make it soon. Thanks a ton (and lol to Andrews double-appropriate use of winner winner chicken dinner;)

  2. Tonight we finally made this dish. Oh my did it exceed expectations! And those expectations were quite high, as early on in our marriage, we regularly had a grape chicken dinner that we loved, but that fell into disfavor given the uni-ingredient involved – grape juice (we’d buy a container of grape juice for the meal but throw the rest out. My “better half”, to quote Roland, doesn’t do uni-ingredients). So we were quite grateful to Roland that he posted a similar version using wine instead (certainly not a uni-ingredient in our home). Wow was it fantastic! As a further tribute to Rolands style of cooking, we deviated a bit from the recipe to accommodate what we had on hand: boneless skinless chicken thighs (Vice skin-on boned thighs), Chianti (Vice red vermouth), and rosemary (Vice tarragon). Simply amazing! And don’t skimp on the garlic – unreal in the sauce! Thank you, thank you, Roland – this recipe will definitely be in our regular rotation!

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