If someone had asked me what I thought my most popular post of all time would be, I would not have guessed it would be Chinese fry batters. It consistently is in my top three posts every day. The people have spoken! And they want to make their own Chinese food.
This suits me just fine… I like Chinese. 🙂 The beauty of the Chinese take-out system is, you have a pile of fried chicken pieces and you can make a zillion and one sauces if your heart desires. So, if you’re a fan of Lemon Chicken, and you’ve got some picky pants who like General Tso (pronounced General Chow) or Sweet and Sour, then no big deal! Just have another sauce.
Speaking of being a fan of lemon chicken, I’m decidedly not–at least, not of most of the restaurant versions, which I find abominably sweet and shallow. So I jazzed this one up a little; it ended up a bit of a delicious Chinese chicken smorgasbord. You can use regular lemons, but Meyer lemons give it a hint of orange chicken, the ginger pairs excellently with the lemon and orange flavour, and just a few tiny flakes of cayenne give it a warm undertone. It’s not spicy. Not at all. So if you’re wondering at all these tiny pinches, dashes, and drops, I will only say it is AMAZING how much just the merest hint of something can add tremendous depth. Go cautious, but I definitely encourage you to taste as you’re making it, and play around a little.
Now for a little funny and a bit of FYI… I showed a friend an advance photo of the food. She was appalled at how thick and shiny the sauce was. Her aversion to shiny clearly marked her as “raised on roux,” a paste made of flour and butter used for thickening soups and gravies. Cornstarch was always my mother’s thickening of choice in all situations, and I inherited that from her. I didn’t learn to make roux until I was in my late 20s, but I still seldom use it because of my son’s dairy allergy.
Flour and butter makes for a rich, opaque sauce, and it has to be well-cooked or risk a sharp floury taste, which breaks down into a more roasted flavour. There are some applications where these characteristics are desirable–cream-based soups, for instance.
But for a beautiful, glossy, translucent sauce that thickens virtually instantly? You just can’t beat cornstarch; Chinese takeout food uses it almost exclusively for sauce thickening.
Chinese Lemon Chicken (Sauce)
|Prep time||10 minutes|
|Cook time||5 minutes|
|Total time||15 minutes|
|Meal type||Condiment, Main Dish|
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup Meyer Lemon juice (2-2.5 or see note)
- 1 heaped tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 piece ginger, sliced in strips (1 inch)
- 1 dash pepper
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus up to 1/4 cup more to sweeten to taste, optionally)
- 3-5 drops sesame oil
- 1 pinch cayenne flakes (1-fingered pinch, not 3)
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup water
For appropriate Chinese fry batters, check out my post on fry batters here. I used the cornstarch batter in photography.
Meyer may be substituted out of season with 1/3 cup lemon juice topped off to 1/2 cup with mandarin orange juice. Regular lemon juice may also be used, with additional white sugar to sweeten to taste. Meyer lemons are thin skinned, so make sure that you zest them before juicing--it'll be nearly impossible to after.
For a more classic take-out taste, you may wish to omit the ginger and pepper/cayenne, and add the additional sugar.
|Step 1.||Prepare chicken and set aside to keep warm. (See notes for fry batters)|
|Step 2.||In a saucepan, combine chicken broth, 1/2 cup sugar, soy sauce, and ginger. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly.|
|Step 3.||Add lemon juice, zest, pepper, and sesame oil. Don't be afraid to taste. Add additional sugar by the tablespoon until the desired sweetness level is achieved. Bring the saucepan up to a simmer.|
|Step 4.||In a cup, combine the cornstarch and water. Whisk the cornstarch into the simmering broth, continuing to whisk until thick and glossy, and the chalky texture of cornstarch dissipates (30 seconds to one minute).|
|Step 5.||Serve over the chicken, or combine the chicken in the sauce to reheat it, and serve.|