Saturday, May 26, 2018

Rao's Lemon Chicken, Interpreted

My wonderful friend Terri has kept me in chicken, shrimp, sliders, rib eye steak and recipes for years. She buys and sells food, gathers recipes, offers cooking classes, and is one of the most generous and excellent cooks I know. She is also the most precise cook I know, which I credit to the fact that her parents were chemists.

A few weeks ago, she printed out a recipe from Cook's Illustrated for Rao's Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken and handed it to me. "Here," she says, "you'll like this. It's right up your alley." It involved chicken, lemons and a cast iron skillet, two of my favorite ingredients and my all-time favorite cooking tool. I made the lemon chicken one May weekend for lunch for my in-laws, who came over to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday. My mother-in-law asked me for the recipe and I handed her the recipe Terri had printed out for me.

"Are you sure?" my mother-in-law asked. "I don't want to take your only copy."

"I can print out another copy," I said. "No problem."

I had forgotten that Cook's Illustrated charges for access to their website. So, I searched on line for an interpretation of it. I found one at

There are several things to note about this recipe. First, it's relatively easy and absolutely delicious. Second, and this is the glorious part, you will have lemon sauce left over and you can use it in a frittata! I made this recipe for the second time in three weeks last Tuesday. My husband and I ate it two nights in a row, and when we were done, I took the leftover lemon sauce, melted it with a little butter in a frying pan, and used it as the basis for a frittata for dinner a third night. It was absurdly good---and didn't allow any of that precious, lemony sauce go to waste.

This recipe makes a lot of chicken. Notes: I halved the recipe and substituted corn starch for flour so that it would be gluten free. The first time I made this, I used chicken-on-the bone. The second time I made this, I made a combination of boneless breasts and boneless thighs. If you are using boneless pieces of meats, cook the chicken in the skillet for 4-8 minutes, not 8 to 10.

Rao's Lemon Chicken, Interpreted


½ cup Kosher Salt
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts cut in two
8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
1 tsp. vegetable or olive oil (I used olive)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter (I used KerryGold)
2 large shallots, dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 teaspoons corn starch 
2 cups chicken broth, divided.
8 tsp. grated lemon zest plus ½ cup juice (from 4 lemons)
2 tbsp. fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves (I used one teaspoon dried oregano)

1. Dissolve salt in 2 quarts cold water in pot or container large enough to submerge all the chicken pieces.  Put all the chicken in the brine, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the chicken from the brine and dry thoroughly.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees.  (This can be done later in the process if you are delaying the final cooking of the chicken).

3. Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. In batches, place chicken skin side down in skillet and cook until skin is well-browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes (less time if you are boneless). Transfer browned chicken to a large plate. Set aside.
4. Pour off and discard the fat in the skillet. Return the skillet to medium heat: add butter, shallots, garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Sprinkle corn starch over the shallot garlic mixture evenly and cook, stirring constantly until the cornstarch is very lightly browned, about 1 minute.  Slowly stir in the broth and the lemon juice, scraping up the brown bits and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1 tbsp. of the lemon zest and remove the skillet from heat.  Assuming your skillet cannot hold all the chicken you are cooking, put the sauce into the bottom of a roasting pan.  Put the cooked chicken, skin side up and above the surface of the sauce, and any accumulated juices into the roasting pan.  You can halt the cooking process here and pick it up, your oven at 475 degrees, 15 minutes or so before serving.

5. Prepare the chopped parsley and oregano and add the remaining lemon zest to the herbs.

6. Cook the chicken, uncovered until the breasts register 160 degrees and the thighs 175 degrees which takes about 12 to 15 minutes (less time if you are using boneless). Remove the skillet or roasting pan from the oven.

7. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Whisk sauce, incorporating any browned bits from the sides of the pan and adding chicken stock until it reaches a smooth and homogeneous consistency, about 3 minutes.  Whisk half of the herb-zest mixture into the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining half over the chicken.  Carefully pour the sauce around the chicken.  Serve, passing the remaining sauce separately.
8. This is great the next day and the next. Eat cold or hot.  Save the leftover sauce and use it in a frittata. You won't be sorry.

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