One thing I love about my job is that it pushes me out of my comfort zone in small ways… if it were up to me, I’d leave Chinese food to the pros (and Vietnamese food, and Thai) – part of what makes it taste so good is the not knowing what exactly went into it, the experience of making ginger beef / lemon chicken / mu shu pork night after night in well-seasoned woks and skillets. Who am I to pull off a proper batch of lemon chicken? We talked about citrus on CBC this morning, and with Chinese New Year coming up on Friday, I figured I’d give it a go.
And really, the ingredients that go into this are not at all exotic – you need not even venture down the aisle of the grocery store that has coconut milk and rice noodles and other no longer particularly extraordinary ingredients. It’s is really no more than chicken and soy sauce and lemon and honey and cornstarch – it’s all in how you put them together. Everyone liked the lemon sauce – which had the colour of unfiltered apple juice, rather than of lemon pie filling (it’s common to not use stock and add yellow food colouring) – but the chicken, which is simply marinated, dipped in cornstarch and fried, could be doused in any number of sauces – homemade or jarred sweet and sour sauce or some such.
It’s not that I want to replace Chinese takeout or food court ginger beef – but if you’re so inclined, it’s fun to DIY.
Crispy Chinese Meyer Lemon Chicken
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry and cut into strips or 1-inch pieces
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 egg white
½ cup cornstarch
canola oil, for frying
1 cup chicken stock
finely grated zest of a regular or Meyer lemon
½ cup lemon juice
1 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. soy sauce
Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces or strips and put into a zip-lock bag with the soy sauce and ginger. Refrigerate for an hour, or overnight. When you’re ready to cook, add the egg white to the bag and squish it around to coat the chicken. Put the cornstarch into a shallow bowl.
To make the sauce, bring all the ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook for a couple minutes, until thickened.
Heat a couple inches of oil in a heavy pot or skillet set over medium-high heat. When it’s hot but not smoking (a scrap of bread should sizzle when dipped in), dip pieces of chicken in the cornstarch to coat, then gently lower into the hot oil. Cook in batches, then remove from the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour the lemon sauce overtop and toss to coat; serve immediately, over rice.