It’s been a while since I’ve updated a Chinese-American classic and given a recent request I received for this dish, I decided it was high time I give it a go. The basic process is the same as my orange chicken recipe, but I’ve substituted honey for the marmalade and used salt instead of soy sauce for the marinade to keep the color lighter. Lemon and black pepper are one of my favorite flavor combinations, so I couldn’t resist adding a generous grind of the fragrant spice into the marinade for both flavor and heat.
Once marinated, the chicken is lightly dusted with potato starch before being fried until a light golden brown. I know potato starch isn’t as easy to find as cornstarch, but it’s superior in almost every way. For frying, potato starch results in a light, crisp crust, as opposed to cornstarch, which tends to get crunchy (like the difference between a potato chip and a corn chip). As a thickener, it stays completely translucent and does not get gloppy or cloying as it cools. If you can’t find it in your grocery store it’s available on Amazon.
The chicken doesn’t take long to fry since it’s cut into relatively small pieces, so be careful not to overdo it, or it will get tough and dry. I recommend using an instant-read thermometer. If you don’t have one, check out the ones made by Thermoworks, I’ve been using them for years, and they’re fast, cover a wide temperature range, and they happen to look great. The model I use (shown in step 5 of the recipe) is a Thermapen Mk4, but its little brother the ThermoPop is just as cute, and more affordable, if you don’t need the speed.
After you’ve fried the chicken, it just gets tossed in a simple sauce packed with loads of lemon flavor, thanks to the addition of both lemon juice and zest, Honey balances out the tartness, while sake adds umami to the sauce. If you chose to substitute water for the sake, it would still taste great, but the flavor will not be quite as complex. Finally, I add just a bit of soy sauce for some extra flavor, but not enough to muddy the color of the lemon sauce.
Put the chicken in a bowl with the sake, salt and black pepper. Marinate for at least 15 minutes, or up to overnight.
- When you're ready to make the lemon chicken, add 2-inches of oil to a heavy-bottomed pot, and heat the oil to 340 degrees F (170 C). Prepare a paper towel lined rack.
- Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a separate pan and set aside.
- Add the potato starch in a bowl and drop the chicken pieces in the potato starch. Roll the chicken around to coat each piece evenly with starch, tapping the excess off on the side of the bowl.
- When the oil is ready, fry the chicken in batches until a light golden brown and cooked through (to test, remove a piece from the pan and use an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160 degrees F). Drain the chicken on the paper towel lined rack.
- When you've finished frying all the chicken, bring the lemon sauce to a boil. Add the chicken and toss until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is coated in a thick, shiny glaze.
- Plate the lemon chicken and garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.