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Preserved Lemon Chicken

Hello, welcome to Djalali Cooks. I was in the mood for a lemon version of the Orange Chicken we made here last June. Just when I was thinking about it, the email newsletter from NYT Cooking came into my inbox and it featured Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for Double Lemon Chicken. I recognized quickly that while this recipe was inspired by takeout Chinese Lemon Chicken, it is something else quite entirely. My curiosity was piqued, and so today we are making Double Lemon Chicken, but we are using actual preserved lemons, instead of the “cheater’s” preserved lemon called for in the recipe. So I have dubbed this version, Preserved Lemon Chicken. Let’s do it!

Preserved Lemon Chicken

I did make one other change to this recipe. I dredged the marinated chicken breasts in flour just before shallow frying to ensure they get a crispy exterior. This is optional, though, as Ottolenghi does not call for this extra step. Let’s start with the chicken and the marinade.

Chicken Cutlets and Marinade

Start by whisking together soy sauce, corn starch, egg whites and black pepper in a large bowl. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and no corn starch lumps remain. Set this aside.

I have two thick chicken breasts. For less pounding, slice the breasts in half horizontally with a sharp knife, I used my utility knife because it’s thin and sharp. Place the breasts on a piece of parchment, slice, then cover with another piece of parchment. Pound the 4 breast halves until they are just about 1/2-inch thick.

You can use a heavy cast iron skillet to pound the breasts. I really like this Norpro meat pounder; it’s easy to maneuver and requires less energy than swinging a mallet-style pounder or a heavy skillet.

Then transfer the cutlets to the marinade, cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least one hour.

chicken marinade

Preserved Lemon Paste

Now we can move on to the preserved lemon paste. As I mentioned at the top, there is a recipe on the NYT Cooking site for a “cheater’s” preserved lemon, which basically has you boiling lemons, lemon juice and salt but this is not going to produce the depth of flavor that preserved lemons have. If you’re an email subscriber, you got my recipe for making your own preserved lemons in today’s email. If you missed it, or don’t want to make your own, you can certainly buy them online. Try Casablanca Market.

The great thing about making your own is that you can add to the jar every time you have a few end-of-life lemons rolling around in the veggie drawer. I always have a jar of preserved lemons on hand, they basically last forever in the fridge and they’re are a great addition to salads, fish, pasta – just about anything you want to punch up a bit with savory, fresh flavor.

preserved lemons

So we will take a couple whole (1-2, depending on the size of the lemon) preserved lemons, about 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and blitz it up in the blender to get a nice thick paste. We only need three tablespoons of the paste for the lemon sauce in this recipe, so whatever is left over, just pour it in a jar and keep it in the fridge for making future dressings or marinades.

Lemon Sauce

Now on to the sauce. We have chicken stock, a little sugar, turmeric, butter, minced fresh garlic, our preserved lemon paste, toasted cumin seeds (coarsely ground).

For the cumin seeds, toast them in a hot skillet over medium heat just until they become fragrant – about 30 seconds. Then grind the toasted seeds coarsely with a mortal and pestle. Pre-ground, powdered cumin will not be the same. The toasted fragrance and flavor of the cumin seeds is less potent and more floral than cumin powder.

lemon sauce ingredients

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine the chicken broth, butter, garlic, sugar, turmeric, preserved lemon paste, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and half of the ground cumin seeds (about 3/4 teaspoon).

Bring this to a boil, stirring occasionally, let this boil for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3. Then, transfer about a ladle-full of the sauce to a small bowl and whisk with 1.5 tablespoons of cornstarch until no lumps remain. Add this cornstarch slurry to the pot with the rest of the sauce and stir well to incorporate. Season with a pinch of Kosher Salt and black pepper. Let this keep cooking for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Shallow Fried Chicken Cutlets

I have about 1/2 cup of all purpose flour in a pie plate to dredge my chicken cutlets before frying them. This is optional and is not called for in the original recipe. Just know that if you skip this part, you will likely not get a crispy exterior on your chicken. So, go with what you prefer.

Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable or grapeseed oil over medium-high heat, in a braiser or tall-sided skillet. When the oil is shimmery, gently lay two chicken cutlets (one at a time) into the hot oil. Be sure to release the cutlets away from you to avoid splattering the hot oil on yourself. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Transfer fried cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate or sheet tray. Repeat with two remaining chicken cutlets.

Side note: If your chicken cutlets are golden brown, but the internal temp is not quite at 165, you can place the fried cutlets on a sheet tray in a 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until the internal temp is 165.

When the cutlets are done, stir together about 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, 2 thinly sliced scallions, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a pinch of Kosher salt. This will top the cutlets and sauce.

cilantro onion topping

To Serve Preserved Lemon Chicken

Transfer the cutlets to a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining toasted, coarsely ground cumin seeds over the cutlets.

Fried Chicken Cutlets

To preserve the crispy exterior of the chicken, I spooned on about 1/4 of the sauce, serving the remaining sauce along side so folks can pour on more sauce if they like.

Preserved Lemon Chicken

Top the sauced cutlets with the cilantro onion mix and serve with rice and steamed vegetables.

Preserved Lemon Chicken

I can see how takeout Chinese Lemon Chicken may have inspired this recipe, but this dish is wholly different. The preserved lemon sauce has a savory, complex flavor, unlike the sweeter lemon flavor of the Chinese version. The toasted cumin seeds brings a distinct Middle Eastern flavor that when tasted with the preserved lemon makes this an undeniably Middle Eastern dish. The lemony, cilantro and onion topping adds a really nice, refreshing, palate cleansing flavor.

Preserved Lemon Chicken

Thank you all so much for joining me today! This Preserved Lemon Chicken is really wonderful, to me it has kind of an unexpected flavor that we just couldn’t get enough of! Alex enjoyed the leftovers as a sandwich; a fried chicken cutlet with extra preserved lemon sauce and cilantro onion topping between a soft potato roll. Consider going that route – he said it was delicious! Stay tuned tomorrow as we put to use that extra preserved lemon paste for a new take on a Brussels sprout Thanksgiving side. Take care and be well, xo Kelly

Preserved Lemon Chicken

Preserved Lemon Chicken

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Dinner, Main Course Middle Eastern
By Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi, via NYT Cooking Serves: 2-4
Prep Time: 30 Minutes, plus 1 Hour Marinate Cooking Time: 15 Minutes Total Time: 1 Hour, 45 Minutes

Marinated, shallow-fried chicken cutlets with a savory preserved lemon sauce, toasted cumin seeds and topped with cilantro, onion and lemon.

Ingredients

  • Marinade and Chicken
  • 2 Medium Egg Whites
  • 2 tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. Cornstarch
  • Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
  • 2 large Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (sliced in half horizontally to make 4 pieces)
  • 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour (optional, for dredging chicken before frying)
  • 1/3 cup Neutral oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • Preserved Lemon Paste
  • 1-2 Preserved Lemons (depending on size of lemon)
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Preserved Lemon Sauce
  • 3 tbsp. Preserved Lemon Paste
  • 3 cups Chicken Stock
  • 1.5 tbsp. Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp. Granulated Sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. Ground Turmeric
  • 1.5 tsp. Cumin Seeds, toasted and roughly crushed in a mortar and pestle, divided
  • 1.5 tbsp. Cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • Black Pepper, to taste
  • Cilantro Onion Topping
  • 1-2 Scallions, trimmed and finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup Roughly Chopped Cilantro (with stems)
  • 2 tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Pinch of Kosher Salt

Instructions

Marinade and Chicken

1

Whisk together soy sauce, corn starch, egg whites and black pepper in a large bowl. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and no corn starch lumps remain. Set this aside.

2

Place the breasts on a piece of parchment, slice the breasts in half horizontally with a sharp knife. Then cover with another piece of parchment. Pound the 4 breast halves until they are just about 1/2-inch thick.

3

Then transfer the cutlets to the marinade, cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least one hour.

Preserved Lemon Paste

4

Take 1-2 preserved lemons, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and blitz in the blender to get a thick paste. We only need three tablespoons of the paste for the lemon sauce.

Preserved Lemon Sauce

5

For the cumin seeds, toast them in a skillet over medium heat just until they become fragrant – about 30 seconds. Then grind the toasted seeds coarsely with a mortal and pestle.

6

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine the chicken broth, butter, garlic, sugar, turmeric, preserved lemon paste, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and half of the ground cumin seeds (about 3/4 teaspoon). Bring this to a boil, and stirring occasionally, let this boil for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3.

7

Then, transfer about a ladle-full of the sauce to a small bowl and whisk with 1.5 tablespoons of cornstarch until no lumps remain. Add this cornstarch slurry to the pot with the rest of the sauce and stir well to incorporate.

8

Season with a pinch black pepper. Let this keep cooking for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Shallow Fried Chicken Cutlets

9

Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable or grapeseed oil over medium-high heat, in a braiser or tall-sided skillet. When the oil is shimmery, gently lay two chicken cutlets (one at a time) into the hot oil. Be sure to release the cutlets away from you to avoid splattering the hot oil on yourself.

10

Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Transfer fried cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate or sheet tray. Repeat with two remaining chicken cutlets.

Cilantro Onion Topping

11

Stir together chopped cilantro, thinly sliced scallions, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a pinch of Kosher salt.

To Serve

12

Transfer the cutlets to a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining toasted, coarsely ground cumin seeds over the cutlets.

13

Spoon Lemon sauce over the cutlets and top with cilantro onion topping.

Notes

If your chicken cutlets are golden brown, but the internal temp is not quite at 165, you can place the fried cutlets on a sheet tray in a 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until the internal temp is 165.

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  • Cynthia Culton
    November 3, 2021 at 9:58 am

    Kellllly! Stop. Lol. My kitchen has been gutted and not finished yet. You are posting the most delicious recipes that I can NOT wait to try!! I am printing and saving in page save covers for next month. Thanks so much and…. Don’t stop! Cindy

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 3, 2021 at 11:29 am

      Lol, Cynthia! Can’t stop, won’t stop! Sorry your kitchen is in the works…that’s not super-fun. But I am happy you’re saving the recipes for later, because I am sure you will enjoy them in your new kitchen! Thanks for stopping by today, have a wonderful week! xo Kelly

  • Sally Burke
    November 5, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Kelly, one question re the preserved lemon paste, I gather you used the whole lemon unlike with other recipes where it says to remove the inside and only use the skin. Looking forward to trying this one out.
    Until next time
    Sally ?‍?

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 6, 2021 at 9:09 am

      Hi Sally, you are correct. For the paste, I used whole preserved lemon – including the flesh. Let me know how it goes for you! xo Kelly