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Chinese Lemon Chicken

Chinese lemon chicken is fried chicken pieces coated in a mildly sweet lemony sauce.  Serve with rice and steamed vegetables.

Chinese lemon chicken on a plate with rice

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with making lemon dishes since my family first moved to Israel where lemon trees speckle neighborhoods they live in.

I often pick lemons off the public trees, so I’m always looking for ways to use them. When I saw Chinese lemon chicken was a thing I couldn’t wait to try it.

Chinese lemon chicken isn’t an authentic Chinese dish, rather it is a Chinese-takeout classic native to Canada.  

I originally thought it would be a lemon version of orange chicken, but I was wrong. The two dishes are pretty different, as orange chicken calls for soy sauce and rice vinegar.  

Lemon chicken is also simpler to make because it calls for less ingredients.

I really enjoy the balance of lemon and the sweetness of the sugar.  Often I find lemon dishes too sour for my taste, but not this dish.

I prefer using one lemon when making the sauce, but if you like your lemon chicken more on the sour side use two.

As you may expect, lemon chicken, like most lemon flavored foods, is yellow.  

Desserts like lemon bars and lemon meringue pie get their bright yellow color from the eggs.  Other recipes like lemon crinkle cookies and this lemon chicken call for food coloring.

Instead of artificial food coloring I use turmeric to naturally color my foods.

I got the idea because it does just that in Israeli yellow rice. You don’t need to worry about it changing the taste though.  

Turmeric doesn’t add any flavor unless you put a lot in, in which case I find it gives a soapy taste.  

So, as long as you follow the recipe you will have naturally beautifully yellow lemon chicken that tastes just right.

HOW TO DREDGE CHICKEN

Double Handed

Use one hand to dip the chicken in the egg and the other to roll it in flour. By using both hands you avoid getting thick layers of batter on your fingers known as “club hand.”

Container Technique

Place half the flour at the bottom of a container. Add the chicken and cover with the remaining flour. Cover with a lid and shake for a few minutes. Each piece should come out well coated.

With methods, shake off any excess flour and fry.

DO NOT DOUBLE COAT

When making fried chicken or fried chicken wings double coat them giving them a thick exterior which keeps them juicy.

When first making this recipe I did half a batch with a double coat and half a batch with one coat. I found the breading was too thick for such small pieces which overpowered the chicken flavor.

Dark meat vs White meat

Most people have a preference between eating white meat or dark meat.  They both certainly have their benefits and detriments in this recipe.  

White meat has the benefit of being lean, more readily available as boneless and skinless, and it cooks quickly.  Dark meat is juicer and does not dry out as quickly making it a safer choice.

At the end of the day, you can use either white or dark meat for this recipe.  The choice is yours.  I often just choose based on what I have on hand.

GLUTEN FREE OPTION

For a gluten free alternative, use corn starch or potato starch instead of flour. They both fry very nicely.

A WORD ON OIL

When frying chicken the temperature of the oil is important. If it’s too cold the chicken will be oily. On the other hand, if the oil is too hot the crust will fall off. With a thermometer it should about 350°F or 175°C to 375°F or 190°C degrees.

If you don’t have a thermometer, when the oil seems hot drop a little flour into the oil. If the flour sizzles and floats on the top it’s hot enough. To make sure it’s not too hot keep it around medium-low and adjust as needed.

IS KOSHER CHICKEN BETTER?

Yes and no. 

It is not necessarily healthier as far as bacteria is concerned, since bacteria can only safely be killed with heat. 

What is better is the quality of the chicken.

The salting process used to remove blood, as part of the koshering process, is believed to provide better quality meat.  

It creates a sort of quick dry brine.

Also, kosher animals are kept in better conditions than nonkosher animals, due to strict kosher health requirements of the animals.  They are also killed in arguably more humane conditions.

While I’ve only eaten kosher meat (so I cannot compare), I’ve been told by non-Jews who do not keep kosher that they’ve noticed that kosher chicken is of superior quality to cook with.

SHOULD YOU WASH CHICKEN?

According to the USDA, you should not wash chicken or meat because washing it spreads bacteria throughout the kitchen.

Water can splash bacteria up to 3 feet surrounding your sink, including onto counter tops, other food, towels and you (i.e. cross contamination).

A study done by Drexel University shows that it is best to move meat and poultry directly from package to pan.  The heat from cooking will kill any bacteria that may be present.

One exception would be if there are bone fragments or residue from giblets, as in a roasting chicken. In that case, feel free to rinse if you like.  However, make sure you wipe down your sink afterwards.

HOW CAN I CLEAN MY CHICKEN WITHOUT WASHING IT?

If you want to clean your chicken without washing it, wipe it down with a wet paper towel. This will remove anything other than bacteria.

Just make sure the paper towel doesn’t touch anything else and to toss the paper towel right away.

HOW TO DEFROST CHICKEN

IN THE FRIDGE

This method is the most highly recommended. Chicken typically takes a full day to thaw. Once thawed, the poultry can remain in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking.

IN COLD WATER

This should take two to three hours.  Submerge your sealed chicken in a pot or bowl full of cold water.  Change out the water every 30 minutes or so. 

Do not use warm or hot water.  It is unhealthy to do so, can start cooking your chicken, and doesn’t do so evenly.

COOK IT FROZEN

According to the USDA, you can cook frozen chicken.  It will take 50% longer to cook, but it’s an option.  You should also cook it on a roasting rack or over vegetables, so the heat can circulate around the chicken.

IS IT SAFE TO REFREEZE RAW CHICKEN

If you have extra raw chicken that you didn’t use but want to refreeze, you can, as long as it was thawed in the fridge.

According to the USDA,“food thawed in the refrigerator is safe to refreeze without cooking.”  However, you do lose quality when refreezing previously defrosted meat. 

Every time you defrost meat, it loses moisture through thawing, which also leads to a loss in flavor.  To compensate for this, marinate the meat to add more flavor and juice.”

The USDA also says not to “refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.”

HOW TO STORE CHICKEN

Place cooled chicken in an airtight container or wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic wrap.  Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.

HOW TO FREEZE CHICKEN

Freeze leftovers within 3-4 days.  Place cooled chicken in an airtight container or resealable freezer bag. 

Freeze for up to 4 months.  After that, it is safe to eat. However, the quality begins to degrade.

Yield: 4 servings

Chinese Lemon Chicken

Chinese lemon chicken on a plate with rice

This lemon chicken is a Canadian Chinese-Takeout classic.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Zest from one lemon
  • ½ cup cornstarch* (60 grams)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (30 grams)
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • Oil, for frying

Sauce

  • ½ cup water (120 millilitres)
  • ¼ cup white sugar (50 grams)
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

Instructions

  1. Add chicken, lemon zest, and egg to a mixing bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together cornstarch, flour, and salt. Dredge each piece into the flour.
  3. In a large frying pan or a wok, heat oil. When it seems hot add a little flour to the oil. If it fries it is hot enough.
  4. Fry the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with remaining chicken.
  5. In a saucepan combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, cornstarch, and turmeric. Bring to boil. Turn off the heat, and add cooked chicken. Stir until well coated.

Notes

Note: you can use 2/3 cup of flour instead of using any cornstarch if you prefer.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 481Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 234mgSodium: 1057mgCarbohydrates: 36gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 48g

Did you make this recipe?

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NIck

Friday 22nd of May 2020

HIi - in the instructions you mentioned lemon zest for the chicken, but it's not in the ingredients for the chicken, Should there be lemon zest and/or juice in the chicken? Thanks!

ElissaBeth

Friday 22nd of May 2020

The lemon from the sauce says to be zested and juiced. The zest goes in with the chicken and the juice goes in with the sauce. I just adjusted the ingredient list to make that more clear :)

Alrack

Sunday 5th of May 2019

for Diabetics is it possible to substitute potato starch for the cornstarch & almond flour for the flour? TIS

ElissaBeth

Monday 6th of May 2019

I've never tired it. I think it should work. I've had success changing out regular flour for potato flour in some recipes, so that may work to. I don't think it will ruin the dish if you do it. If you've ever made fried chicken with almond flour and liken the results then I think it would work here. Please let me know how it comes out!

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