When I think of summer, I immediately think of lemons. Fresh, tangy, and light; when I hold a lemon I can almost feel the warmth of the sun.
Most Americans think of lemons in sweets. Think lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon bars. Lemons should also be thought of as a savory component to a dish. We have Morocco to thank for Tagines that highlight preserved lemons. Likewise, the Iranians make a stew using dried lemons. (Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzii - Herb & Vegetable Stew.) My summer favorite though, is my version of the Silver Palate's Lemon Chicken.
I've been making Lemon Chicken for years. Or perhaps I should say tweaking it for years. Recently, I've made it with my son in mind. Chicken marinated in lemon juice, lightly fried, then baked with lemon slices and a sprinkling of light brown sugar. Not quite a chicken nugget, but definitely the same family, only healthier.
Lemon Chicken (adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook)
Serves 4 to 6
The following is a variation from a recipe in the Silver Palate Cookbook. The original calls for large chicken quarters to be marinated overnight, lightly fried and then baked for just under an hour. I use chicken cutlets and marinate them for 4 to 6 hours, coat them in white whole wheat flour, lightly sauté them, then bake them for a fraction of the time of the original recipe. The result is flavorful lemony chicken perfect for dinner or a weekend picnic.
5 chicken breasts boneless and skinned and cut in half to make long cutlets. (To make a long cutlet, take your hand and press down on breast while slicing through the center. Your knife will be parallel to your hand and cutting board.)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 large lemons)
2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur and Trader Joes carries this.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup corn oil
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 lemons, sliced paper-thin
Combine chicken pieces and lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl just large enough to hold them. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 4 to 6 hours, turning occasionally.
Drain the chicken and pat it dry. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a plastic bag with the flour, salt and black pepper and shake to mix. Put up to 4 pieces of chicken in the bag at a time and shake it to coat each piece.
In a large skillet, 12-14 inches is preferable, heat 1/2 the corn oil over med. high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking You can test the temperature by putting one piece in the oil. It should sizzle. Try to accomplish this in two batches if you can. Sauté each batch (5 pieces at a time), for 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Arrange the browned chicken (overlapping slightly so they all fit), in a large baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Deglaze the skillet with the water and pour the sauce and bits from the pan around the chicken pieces. Place the lemon slices on top of the chicken and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven when the lemon slices have started to brown on the edges and juices in the pan are nice and bubbling. Serve with a nice salad or crispy browned potatoes. Any leftovers are great cold and are perfect for a picnic.
I personally prefer this dish cold, though it is certainly delicious right out of the oven. Either way, please enjoy and feel free to share your own variations of this dish.