I'm not a big fan of seasoning mixes. They take up room in the spice drawer, and no matter how much I love a flavor combination I always end up tiring of the blend long before I'm able to use it up. But my biggest beef with these blends is that they often don't taste as good as they should.
Lemon pepper is a seasoning that's a great example of this. In theory, the vibrant zing of lemons and the spicy floral aroma of freshly cracked black pepper should provide an alluring contrast of flavors that can make a juicy cut of chicken sing. But if you're using a bottled seasoning mix, chances are it's going to make your food taste like dish soap.
Looking at the list of ingredients that goes into one of these seasonings makes it pretty clear why. Although black pepper makes it in as the #2 ingredient, "lemon oil" is the #11 ingredient between Silicon Dioxide and FdC; Yellow 5. I dunno about you, but when something is called "Lemon & Pepper Seasoning", I'm not expecting the lemons to get squeezed between a compound used in microchip fabrication and an artificial food coloring.
As obvious as it may sound, seasoning food with fresh lemons and black pepper isn't much harder than opening up a bottle and shaking a seasoning onto your food. This lemon pepper chicken requires very little prep time, and yet for your pittance of effort, you'll be rewarded with juicy flavorful chicken redolent of black pepper, thyme and lemons. First, the chicken is marinated with salt, olive oil, lemon zest and thyme. To ensure an even coating of black pepper, I like to sprinkle it directly onto the chicken just before roasting. Because lemon zest tends to lose its bright edge when cooked cooked, I finish the chicken off with a little extra zest just before serving.
If you want your chicken to be tart as well, just serve the chicken with lemon wedges so you can squeeze some fresh juice onto the chicken before you eat it.
- Cut the legs in half at the joint so you have a drumstick and a thigh.
- Sprinkle the chicken evenly with the salt and then drizzle with the olive. Zest one lemon onto the chicken and then pluck the leaves off the sprigs of thyme onto the chicken. Toss the chicken so that each piece is evenly coated with the lemon zest and thyme. Let this rest for 15 minutes.
- Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 425 degrees F (220 C). Place an oven-safe wire rack on a baking sheet and sprinkle the chicken with freshly ground black pepper before laying the pieces skin-side up on the rack.
- Roast the chicken until the skin is golden brown and the an instant read thermometer poked into the thickest part reads 165 degrees F (73 C), about 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and zest some more lemon zest onto the chicken before serving.