My Dad’s Lemon Chicken
Chinese food is a favorite in our house, and we love lemon chicken in particular. There’s something about the yin and yang of pairing a tart and tangy sauce with crunchy chicken that’s just so addictive.
Turns out I’m in good company. New York chef Alex Guarnaschelli, a familiar face on Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking show, is a fan of the classic dish, too, especially when it’s made by her dad, John. As she writes in her latest cookbook, “The Home Cook,” her father found his “true passion” in Chinese food, “and still has a special kitchen cabinet filled with various soy sauces, vinegars, and spices.”
You don’t need any special ingredients to make this dish, just a a bit of patience to allow the cubed chicken sit for a few hours in the fridge in a bath of cornstarch mixed with egg. The sauce comes together in now time, and the chicken fries up fast, too.
The flesh from the lemon slices will disintegrate when you put them in the hot oil, so you may have to fish out some bits and pieces before adding the chicken or else they’ll burn. (At least mine did!) Don’t forget the salt, and fear not the bird’s eye chili slices — they add just the right amount of heat.
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
Juice 2 lemons
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 medium garlic cloves, grated
6 cups peanut oil, for frying
1 lemon, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1/2 small Thai red chile
Marinate chicken: In large bowl, whisk eggs with 3 tablespoons cornstarch until smooth. Season chicken on all sides with salt, and submerge into egg mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours.
Make lemon sauce: In medium saucepan, combine soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar and sugar. Simmer over medium heat until flavors come together and sugar has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic, and simmer for 1 additional minute. Remove from heat and keep sauce warm.
Fry chicken: Pour peanut oil into large heavy-bottomed pot or wok and bring to 350 degrees over medium-low heat. Remove chicken from liquid in bowl and spread it in an even layer on baking sheet. Use fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch in an even layer over all sides of chicken. Drop some of the lemon slices carefully into oil and fry until light brown with crisped edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towel-lined baking sheet.
In batches, add chicken to hot oil and cook until crispy and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to baking sheet and season with salt.
Finish dish: Stir lemon slices and fresh chile into sauce. Arrange fried chicken on platter and pour sauce over the. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 to 4.
— “The Home Cook” by Alex Guarnaschelli (Clarkson Potter, Sept. 2017, $35)