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Culinary SOS

The Guaranteed Lemon


DEAR SOS: I've been looking for a lemon chicken like the ones you get at Chinese restaurants. I've tried recipes from the Internet, supposedly Chinese-style, but they're not close.



DEAR I.: This is from Ken Hom's "Foolproof Chinese Cooking" (DK Publishing, 2001). He explains that many versions of this recipe are too sweet. This one, though, strikes a nice balance between sweetness and tartness. Instead of the chicken being battered and fried, it is made using a technique called "velveting" that requires two steps: The chicken is dipped in a mixture of cornstarch, egg white and salt, then blanched in water or cooked in hot oil. This adds a protective cover to the chicken and holds in the juices. It's great for stir-fries.


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Classic Lemon Chicken

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3x1/2-inch strips

1 egg white

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/4 cups peanut oil or water

Place the chicken strips in a bowl and combine with the egg white, salt, sesame oil and cornstarch. Refrigerate the mixture for about 20 minutes.

If you are using oil for velveting the chicken, heat a wok until very hot, and then add the oil. When it is very hot, remove from the heat and immediately add the chicken, stirring vigorously to prevent it from sticking. After about 2 minutes, when the chicken turns white, quickly pour it into a stainless steel colander set over a bowl to drain off the oil, which should be discarded. If using water for velveting the chicken, follow the same procedure, but bring the water to a full boil in a saucepan before adding the chicken. It will take about 5 minutes to turn white in the water; make sure the chicken is cooked through.


1/3 cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1 to 2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon cornstarch, blended with 1 teaspoon water

If you have been using a wok, wipe it clean. Heat it over high heat, then add the stock, lemon juice, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and add the cornstarch mixture. Simmer for 1 minute.


2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, to garnish

Return the chicken strips to the wok and cook them long enough to coat with the sauce, about 1 minute. Mix in the sesame oil, then turn onto a platter, garnish with the green onions and serve immediately.

2 to 4 servings. Each of 4 servings: 342 calories; 811 mg sodium; 78 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 30 grams protein; 0.28 gram fiber.

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