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What Is Lemon Chicken?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 17, 2024
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Home cooks the world over know that nothing perks up a ho-hum chicken like a little lemon. Lemon chicken means different things to different cooks. To a Greek, it might suggest the tart deliciousness of avgolemono, or egg lemon soup, while to a Chinese cook, it means deep-fried chicken in a sweetly rich, lemony glaze. Italian cooks have perfected the holy triptych of breaded chicken cutlets, capers, and a lemony wine sauce, and French home cooks have created mind-bogglingly yummy lemon cream chicken recipes.

There are 1,000 ways to create lemon chicken, and 1,000 variations upon each of those ways. The simplest recipes call for bone-in or boneless chicken, lemon, perhaps some garlic and onion, and whatever herbs the cook wants. The chicken is panfried or oven baked together with the onions and garlic, with lemon squeezed over the chicken and herbs sprinkled on. A slightly fancier version sautés the garlic and onion in butter or olive oil and a little white wine and might add some olives or mushrooms to the sauce.

Once the home cook has mastered those easy approaches, though, a lust for lemon chicken in all its forms is likely to set in. A lemon chicken dish that has remained popular for decades both for its ease of preparation and mouthwatering flavors calls for flattening boneless chicken breasts between waxed paper, dredging the breasts in egg and flour, then lightly panfrying them in olive oil. After the breasts are removed, the cook adds white wine or sherry to the pan and then lemon, reducing this sauce by half. Butter or oil adds thickness, weight, and flavor; capers and fresh herbs added just before the sauce is poured over the chicken finish the dish.

Calorie- and health-conscious cooks looking for a recipe that won’t leave anyone feeling neglected can marinate chicken breasts in a blend of soy sauce and lemon juice to which garlic, paprika, and lemon zest have been added. Packaging each breast in foil with a handful of rough-chopped herbs and baking the packages until the chicken has steamed produces an incredibly moist, lemony meat with very little fat.

This food combination is a wonderful starting place for novice cooks interested in creating their own recipes. The two main ingredients, lemon and chicken, are willing to play with sherry or another sweeter wine instead of white wine. Throwing a few raspberries or pomegranate seeds into the sauce adds rubies of color and an unexpected, fruity taste. Mint, basil, or both make this dish sparkle.

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