Sticky & Sweet Chinese 5-Spice Chicken

Do you ever lay in bed at night and think to yourself, “I wonder what would happen if I made a spiced caramel sauce for chicken?” No? That’s probably a good thing. That being said, I definitely do.

I’m not sure exactly where the inspo for this recipe came from, but this past week I couldn’t resist the impulse to grab a bag of dried apricots at the store, and I found myself thinking that I wanted to use them in a sweet (but not overly sweet) chicken dish. My husband had (for reasons unknown to me) not one, but two full jars of Chinese 5-Spice in the cupboard when I moved in, and I’ve been considering how to start making a dent in the stuff since I adopted his address.

Some of my favorite Chinese dishes are the ones that seemingly flawlessly blend sticky sweetness with a hint of spice and umami, and so I figured a dried fruit-Chinese 5-Spice crossover couldn’t go too sideways. To create that sticky sweetness I love so much, I decided to stick with what I know: caramel. It’s basic, easy, and I know it’ll create a sticky sauce every single time. If there’s a better way to create a sticky sauce, I’m not sure I wanna learn about it, because this dish came out PERFECTLY. It’s sticky, but not inedibly so; sweet, but not cavity-developing territory, and the spices are absolutely perfect.

Let’s just say my husband and I have a pretty clear idea how we’ll be using up that Chinese 5-Spice supply (of unknown origin) from here on out and it involves a lot of this chicken.

Here’s how to make it:

Sticky & Sweet Chinese 5-Spice Chicken

Course dinner, leftovers, lunch
Cuisine American, Chinese
Keyword chicken thighs, chinese 5 spice, sticky, sweet
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • 1 package or lb bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp Chinese 5-Spice *store bought is perfect here!
  • 3 tbsp butter cubed
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped, dried fruit *I find apricots work well here
  • olive oil
  • butter


  1. Season your chicken thighs on both sides with salt and pepper and the Chinese 5-spice (about 1 tbsp per side, or as much is necessary to thoroughly dust each thigh with the seasoning).

  2. Heat a pan over medium-high heat with olive oil and butter – I add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan and then I add approx. 2 tbsp butter. Once the pan is very hot, add your chicken thighs to the hot pan, skin-side down, and cook them until the skin is well-browned and crispy, about 7-10 minutes. Flip them over and cook them another 5 minutes, until the underside is also well browned.

  3. Add the 2 tbsp butter and brown sugar to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, until the butter has melted and the brown sugar has dissolved. The brown sugar will get nice and bubbly.

  4. Flip the chicken thighs over, coat them in the bubbling sauce, add the dried fruit and cook everything for an additional 2-3 minutes, covered. When the fruit is just soft and everything is nicely caramelised, serve the chicken, in the sweet gravy, immediately. I like mine over white rice with red chili flakes as garnish. Enjoy!

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