I think I should preface this post by explaining my stance towards that most clichéd of Chinese culinary clichés, lemon chicken. It's that type of dish available at every "Chinese" restaurant, right from the Flower Drum, down to your little suburban takeaway, in varying quality (usually poor). Generally it consists of pieces of battered, deep-fried chicken, doused in a luminescent yellow "lemon-flavoured" sauce. I don't think it bears any resemblance to anything people in China actually eat, and for the longest time, I refused to order it, even in better restaurants, believing that my selecting lemon chicken would diminish my food credibility.
This was, of course, until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw Bill Granger make it on his program, bills food 2. He dusted chicken breasts in flour and five spice powder, fried them until they were crispy, and put them in the oven until they were cooked. He then doused the cooked chicken pieces in a sauce made by stir frying wedges of real lemon with ginger, rice wine, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice, chicken stock and cornflour. It looked good. Really good. So good that my dad insisted that I make it as soon as possible, and so good that I instantly threw away my prejudice against declassé foodstuffs and decided that, good God, yes, I too must have this lemon chicken.
The recipe appears in Every Day, and Bill serves it with oven-baked rice, made special with the addition of Chinese cabbage, peas, rice wine and ginger. Now, although I was more than ready to embrace lemon chicken, I still couldn't countenance oven-baked rice (I mean, why?). I just cooked it on the stovetop, but a rice-cooker would work equally well.
While the rice was cooking, I got on with the chicken. How beautiful does floured and fried chicken look? Frying this chicken, I was suddenly inspired to make some good ol' Southern fried chicken. Nigella has a fab looking recipe, as does Tyler Florence. Soon, soon.
As you can see from the first photo, I piled all the rice, chicken and sauce onto one large platter to share with my family. It was the only appropriately Asian-looking dish I had. In the book, Bill says that the recipe reminds him of Chinese dining in suburban Melbourne. So true! I'm from suburban Melbourne! And it's such a staple dish - I used to eat it all the time as a child, before I worried about what was "cool", and before I though of fluroscent food as a problem. But having said that, Bill's version is a far cry from the dodgy takeaways of my childhood. It tasted absolutely wonderful! It was fresh and light, whilst at the same time being substantial enough for a proper dinner. The rice, additionally, was a great accompaniment.
Yes, lemon chicken is a culinary cliché. But when it is made like this, fresh and delicious, it hardly matters.