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. I had started experimenting with an egg and cornstarch batter, but decided that too much egg can lead to soggy chicken right out of the wok. So I went back to dipping the chicken in egg and dredging it in a dry cornstarch mixture. The sauce incorporates a little sautéed garlic and ginger, chicken broth, some lemon juice and zest, and enough sugar to balance out the tartness.
I had also been experimenting with a technique that results in crunchier chicken: draining fried chicken on paper towels or draining on brown paper, as a commenter recently suggested. The results are so far inconclusive, but brown paper may be edging out. Plus, it’s a great use for all those Trader Joe’s paper bags, of which I have plenty.
Chinese Lemon Chicken
2 pounds skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3 cups peanut or vegetable oil
Lemon slices (optional)
White sesame seeds (optional)
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
- Combine the soy sauce and sesame oil. Coat the chicken with the marinade and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- In a large bowl or deep plate combine the cornstarch and white pepper. Get excess marinade off the chicken, then toss the cubes in the cornstarch mixture. Shake off excess cornstarch before frying.
- Heat the 3 cups of oil in your wok. Heat wok until just smoking, then add the first batch of chicken cubes and deep-fry until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels or brown paper (from a paper bag). Repeat with the rest of the chicken.
- Transfer 1 tablespoon of the oil into a medium-sized pot and heat over medium-high. (You save the oil for later use by allowing it to cool, then straining into an aluminum can or other container.)
- Add the garlic and ginger and cook briefly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, chicken stock, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the cornstarch mixture so the sauce can thicken.
- Remove from the heat, and toss the fried chicken in the sauce. Garnish with lemon slices and white sesame seeds. Serve with white rice and maybe some broccoli.
Other chicken recipes to try:
- General Tso’s Chicken
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Chinese Almond Chicken
- Orange Sesame Chicken
- Three Cup Chicken
- Chicken Lollipops
- Spicy Chicken in Black Bean Sauce