Most sane people keep a drawer full of delivery menus for the sole purpose of...ordering delivery. I too have a menu drawer, but can count on two hands the number of times I have actually ordered delivery in the past few years.
Call me a bad New Yorker. I'm pretty good with picking up takeout while out somewhere, but dialing from home is another story. Being so dangerously close to the kitchen, I usually wind up studying the menu for half an hour, choosing an entree, then deciding, screw this, I can make the same dish, except way better.
This hubris usually leads me to spend another couple of hours ransacking my cabinets, schlepping to the grocery store, figuring out a strategy, then executing it. Even if it is already past 9pm and I'm starving. Sure, it would have been easier and about 1 hour and 50 minutes faster to just call the damn Golden Panda Dynasty, but definitely not as satisfying. Or so I tell myself.
I wonder if delivery menu one-upmanship can be classified as a psychological disorder.
On the bright side, I can now whip up many MSG-free versions of takeout favorites, like General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour pork, and orange sesame chicken. This week was lemon chicken's turn. Sure, lemon chicken also exists as a dish in mainland China, but usually steamed, almost like Hainan chicken, with slices of lemon on top. Which is good in its own respect, but sometimes you just want a crunchy exterior.
So try this lemon chicken recipe and see how it compares. The sauce incorporates a little sautéed garlic and ginger, chicken broth, some lemon juice and zest, and enough sugar to balance out the tartness.
Let me know what you think!
Chinese Lemon Chicken
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 cups cornstarch
- 3 cups peanut or vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon for stir-frying
- Lemon slices (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
- Marinate the chicken: In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, and egg whites. Add the chicken and stir gently to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- In a small dry pan, toast the sesame seeds for about 1 minute, or until they become lightly brown and aromatic. Transfer to a dish and set aside.
- Spread the 1 1/2 cups of cornstarch in a large bowl or deep plate. Toss the chicken cubes in the cornstarch and shake off any excess before frying.
- Heat the peanut oil in a wok or heavy-bottomed pot until it registers 350 degrees F on an instant-read oil thermometer. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the chicken cubes and fry until lightly golden on the outside and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. (Optional: To get the chicken extra-crispy, allow the chicken to drain and cool for about 5 minutes, then return the chicken to the wok to fry for another 30 seconds, until golden brown.)
- Transfer the oil to a heat-proof container. (It will take about 1 hour to fully cool, after which you can transfer it to a container with a tight lid to dispose of it.) If you used a wok to deep-fry, you can reuse it to make the sauce next by just wiping down the insides with a paper towel. If you used a heavy-bottomed pot for deep-frying, switch to a clean wok or large skillet.
- Prepare the sauce: Heat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the garlic and ginger and cook briefly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, lemon juice, lemon zest, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce.
- Remove from the heat and toss the fried chicken in the sauce. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds and lemon slices (if using).
First posted July 23, 2010. Updated June 5, 2013.