Citizens, this recipe for lemon chicken is near and dear to my heart, as it was one of the first “exotic” recipes I ever attempted as a young teenager!
It was 35 years ago and I was reading my mother’s ancient copy of the New York Times International Cookbook for kicks (to my knowledge it had never been used once since being purchased back in 1973 when it first came out).
In the China section, this recipe suddenly jumped out at me – it looked like something I’d seriously like to eat (lemon + chicken + fried = good to teenaged tastebuds!).
As noted in that very copy of The New York Times International Cookbook, still in my collection to this very day:
One of the most interesting of Chinese dishes is a creation of highly skilled chef Lee Lum. Called simply Lemon Chicken, it consists of boneless chicken breast, coated with water chestnut powder, crisply fried, and served over crisp vegetables in a sweet and pungent lemon sauce whose extraordinary flavor comes from the ounce of lemon extract that is added at the last moment. The recipe is given here for home cooks who would like to duplicate Lee Lum’s triumph.
Citizens – the original recipe was nothing like the hideously gelatinous, canary yellow blasphemy we know and despise from bad Chinese buffets! It is light, crispy and truly sweet/sour/sharp in flavor – a veritable razor of flavor across the palate!
My updated version of the classic uses Chinese rose liquor, Shaoxing rice wine, garlic and ginger to add further complexity to this worthy recipe – try it and know the true pinnacle of what this dish really entails! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
4 Whole boneless and skinless chicken breasts
2 tb Light soy sauce
¼ ts Sesame oil
1 ts Salt
1 tb Chinese rose liquor (flavored with rose petals!), Mei Kuei Lu Chiew, 玫瑰露酒 (preferred) or Gin
3 Egg whites, beaten until frothy
1 c Water chestnut flour, whizzed to a fine powder in the blender (preferred) or cornstarch
¾ c sugar
½ c White vinegar
1 scant cup Chicken stock, made up to 1 cup with 5 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry and 2 tbsp Chinese rose wine or gin
1 tb Cornstarch
2 tb Water
A pinch of salt
3 small Carrots cut in thinnest possible strips (julienne)
½ lg red bell pepper, cut in thinnest possible strips (julienne)
3 Green onions cut in thinnest possible strips (julienne)
½ c Shredded fresh pineapple
1 Bottle (1-oz.) lemon extract
1 Lemon , Juice of
1 Lemon, Thin yellow rind of, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp ginger paste
¼ Head iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
Place the chicken in a shallow earthenware dish or bowl. Combine soy sauce, sesame oil, salt & rose wine or gin and pour over the chicken. Toss to coat and let sit 30 minutes.
Drain the chicken and discard the marinade. Add the chicken pieces to the beaten egg whites and toss to coat. Place the water chestnut flour on a plate and use to coat the chicken pieces.
Add the peanut oil to a skillet to a depth of ½ inch and heat to 350 degrees. Add the chicken pieces, a few at a time if necessary, and brown on both sides. Drain.
Meanwhile, place the sugar, vinegar, stock, Shaoxing, rose wine, cornstarch mixed with water, salt, and lemon juice and rind in a small pan. Bring to a boil and cook stiriring until the mixture thickens.
Cut the drained chicken into 1-inch crosswise slices and place on top of the shredded lettuce on a serving platter. If necessary, keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
Add the vegetables and pineapple to the sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon extract. Pour over the chicken and serve immediately.