Pulled Chicken with Cherry-Chile Sauce

Anne Haug, Picking Cherries at Kurth Orchards

Anne Haug, Picking Cherries at Kurth Orchards

by Cat, Sept 15, 2014 (Photo, right, from Cat’s photo collection)

The Flathead Valley where I live is a haven for cherry orchards that thrive in the rocky soil overlooking Flathead Lake. Our season is over, now, but we all have preserved cherries by freezing, canning and fermenting. Most of us have a cherry pitter (or know where to borrow one); the growers also have access to a commercial pitter. This recipe is a great way to use the cherries, with a bit of chile-heat. Chicken, like pork, pairs well with sweet sauces.

Be sure to use pasture-raised chicken for maximum nutrition and flavor; I get mine from a local farmer.

Pulled Chicken with Cherry-Chile Sauce

This recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking.com (1). The original serves 4 – 6 and uses just chicken thighs (skin removed); I’ve adjusted to serve 2, with a half-chicken, skin on. I separate the drumstick, thigh, wing and breast of the half chicken, then brine the breast and reserve the back and neck for making chicken broth at another time. Or you can leave the half-chicken in-tact, brine the whole thing, then cut apart after cooking.

The original recipe uses a slow cooker (crock pot), or you can cook this in the oven with a few modifications.

About the peppers: I highly recommend wearing kitchen gloves when cutting up/preparing the jalapeño, to avoid burning your skin. For the chipotle chile, you can use canned, or revive a dried chile; see Chiles & Peppers (About) for more.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • ½ chicken, brined (or brine breast only)
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • shallots, enough to make ¼ cup, coarsely chopped
  • fresh ginger root: 1 – 2 tsp. peeled & chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño to make ½ – 1 tsp minced fresh jalapeño after seeds & membranes are removed
  • Scant 2 cups dark sweet fresh cherries to make 1 ½ cups, pitted and de-stemmed
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes, with juices (or one 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes)
  • 2 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
  • 1⁄4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp. chipotle chiles en adobo
  • 1 ½ Tbs. Dijon mustard, divided
  • about ½ – ¾ tsp chile powder, divided
  • 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt, divided
  • 7 – 8 grinds black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp Rapadura or light brown sugar
  • 2 warmed burger buns or ciabatta rolls, for serving (optional)


  • glass bowl or stainless steel pot for brining
  • cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • small, medium and large bowls
  • slow cooker (crock pot) or stove-top and oven-proof Dutch oven



  1. Brine chicken breast or half-chicken (back removed and placed in freezer bag for future use); breast requires 30 minutes in brine; half-chicken (cut up) requires 1 – 1 ½ hours in brine; half-chicken (whole) requires 2 – 12 hours in brine. Rinse and pat dry. You can cut into pieces (wing, thigh, drumstick and breast) before or after cooking. I recommend leaving the skin on during cooking, then remove when you remove the meat from the bones.
  2. Coarsely chop shallots, to make ¼ cup; peel then chop ginger to make 1 – 2 tsp; wearing gloves, remove seeds and membranes from jalapeño, then chop to make 1.2 – 1 tsp.  Set these aside together in a small bowl.
  3. Pit and de-stem cherries, enough to make about 1 ½ cups cherries; dice tomatoes, to make about 2 cups. Place cherries and tomatoes in medium bowl; add chipotle, molasses, vinegar, ½ Tbsp mustard, ¼ tsp chile powder, ¾ tsp salt and 3 grinds of pepper.
  4. In large bowl, combine remaining divided seasonings: 1 Tbs. mustard, ¼ – ½ tsp. chile powder, ¼ tsp. salt, and 5 grinds pepper.

Prepare barbecue sauce:

  1. Heat oil in skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. When hot, add shallot mixture; sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add cherries/tomato mixture and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until aromatic and thickened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat. Carefully transfer half to a blender; purée until smooth, about 20 seconds. Purée the second half until smooth (you should have about 5-1⁄4 cups). Set aside.

Slow-roast chicken

  1. Add the prepped chicken to the flavorings in the large bowl, and mix well with your hands.
  2. Slow Cooker: Transfer chicken to the bottom of the slow cooker and pour ¾ cup of the barbecue sauce on top (reserve remainder for serving and extras). Cover and cook on low until the meat is cooked through and tender, 4 to 4-1⁄2 hours.
  3. Oven braise: Preheat oven to 350F. Transfer chicken to Dutch oven; pour ¾ cup of the barbecue sauce on top (reserve remainder for serving and extras); add about ¼ cup filtered water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Of heat, cover pot and place in oven. Roast about 2 to 2 ½ hours, adding more filtered water from time to time as needed to keep from drying out.
  4. Use tongs to transfer the chicken to a cutting board and carefully use a fork to separate the meat from the bones. You should have about 2 cups meat.
  5. Place bones to freezer bag with back and neck pieces, for use in making chicken broth at another time.

To Serve:

  1. Stir together 1 cup of the remaining sauce and the shredded meat, and reheat over medium-low heat on stovetop.
  2. If serving as sandwiches, spoon some meat and sauce onto the bottom half of each bun, and cover with the top bun. Accompany with a green salad or cole slaw, and additional sauce.
  3. Or serve with cooked rice, grits or other side dish, and a green salad or cole slaw, and additional sauce.


  1. Fine Cooking recipe: finecooking.com/recipes/pulled-chicken-cherry-chile-barbecue-sauce.aspx

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