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A lemony day all the way

I somehow got fixated on lemons today, so it’s fitting to end with another of my all-time favorite tangy recipes. In case you missed them, the other two were: “Chinese” Lemon Chicken and American “Roasted Lemon Chicken.”

Chicken Parmesan with Lemon

4 small or 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2cups bread crumbs
1/2 finely grated parmesan
5 tbsp. olive oil
2 lemons, halved
2 tbsp. cream or milk
flour–for dusting chicken
1-2 eggs
2 tbsp. butter
spring onions/chives/or parsley for garnish

If chicken breasts are large, filet in half. You want to start with filets about 1/2 inch thick. Do not pound; it only toughens the meat. In shallow bowl, lightly beat eggs; add cream and 1 tbsp. olive oil, beating again lightly. Mix bread crumbs and parmesan together and place on cutting board. Dust breasts in flour, pat off excess, dip into egg mixture, then place on bread crumbs. Cover with crumbs and press hard with palm. Turn over, repeat process several times. By now your filets (or small chicken breasts) should be about 1/4 inch thick–any thicker and you’ll have to fry them too long, which will damage or burn the breading in order to get the meat done. Place breaded breasts on paper bag.

Heat remaining olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add butter, then add chicken as soon as butter stops bubbling. Fry until golden brown, about 4-6 minutes, then flip. Wait 1-2 minutes for bottom to seal, then drizzle lemon juice over breasts. Continue to cook until golden brown, remove and drain on paper towel or bag. Garnish and serve.

You can use this recipe with pork loins or veal cutlets, too.

[Note: most “traditional” chicken parmesan is served with marinara sauce and mozzarella on top and then flash broiled. This is my personal take on this dish; I prefer the simplicity and the tang of the lemon. If you give it a try, let me know whether it suited your taste buds.]


Lemons roasting in a chicken

Roasted Lemon Chicken

5-6 lb. roaster chicken
2 whole lemons
4 tbsp. melted butter

Clean, rinse and dry chicken. Use small skewers and lace up rear with kitchen string; tie legs against body as well. Roll lemons on countertop, squeezing to loosen the flesh inside. Pierce repeatedly with sharp-tined fork. Salt and generously pepper the abdominal cavity of chicken and place both lemons inside. Skewer and lace up the neck of the chicken. Baste chicken all over with melted butter.

Place on a rack in roaster pan in 450º preheated oven. Reduce heat immediately to 350º. After half an hour, baste frequently until done (internal temperature of 180-185º, or about 20-25 minutes per pound). Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before carving; serve with the wonderful, lemony drippings.

And another nod to my favorite chef for this recipe!

When a lemon is not a lemon

Lemon (Orange) Chicken

Marinade: salt, white pepper and 1/2 cup of rice wine (or sherry). Cut 2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into chunks or strips; prepare marinade to your taste, add chicken and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Batter: 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup cold water, 1 egg, 1 tbsp. (peanut) oil, salt. Whip egg, oil and salt in small bowl, add water and then slowly stir in flour. Set aside.

Lemon (orange) sauce: juice of 2 lemons (or 1 large orange), 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2 tbsp. cornstarch and 1 egg yolk. Heat lemon juice, sugar and water. Thicken with cornstarch. Pour about 1/2 cup into small bowl and slowly add egg yolk while stirring; then return to rest of the sauce. Do not make the sauce too early or you’ll cook the egg, which is only for color. Sauce should not be too runny, nor too thick–about the consistency of syrup.

Cooking: heat peanut oil to 375º, dip chicken in batter and deep fry in batches for about 6-8 minutes, until golden brown; drain on paper towel. Place chicken on serving dish and pour sauce on top; garnish with finely sliced half moons of lemon or orange. Serve immediately.

[Note: to date, I’ve never encountered this dish in China…in neither lemon, nor chicken form. The closest I’ve had, here in Hubei and also in Guangzhou (where Cantonese cuisine is predominant), is deep-fried pork strips slathered with orange sauce…though still hao chi (delicious). However, back home we would call this particular dish sweet and sour pork; indeed, the Chinese name for this dish is tang cu lijitang means sweet, cu means sour and liji means pork tenderloin, though I highly doubt very many restaurants actually use the tenderloin.

Another popular dish is tang cu paigu…pork ribs chopped into roughly 3/4 in. pieces and deep-fried (I suspect also parboiled)…again with orange sauce.

Final aside–despite the vast array of fruits available here, I’ve never seen lemons at the wet markets (shichang), though you can find them in many of the large supermarkets (chaoshi)…leading me to believe the average Chinese cook has little use for them.]

Better than Mom’s apple pie

Mom’s Beef Croquettes

8 cups roast beef, cooked and diced
4 cups binding béchamel sauce
spring onion
lemon juice
2-3 cups ritz cracker crumbs or bread crumbs

2-3 whipped eggs

* Béchamel—binding
1 cup milk
3 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup flour
1 carrot slice
1 onion slice
1-2 bay leaves
2 cloves
4-5 peppercorns
1 mace
1 egg

* Ratio: 2 cups meat to 1 cup sauce

Let milk stand for at least one hour with veggies and spices, then bring to a short simmer, strain and keep over low heat.

Melt butter with flour and cook over low heat for 3-4 minutes until smooth. Remove from heat, pour about 1/4 cup milk in, stirring vigorously, then continue to add rest of milk while stirring. Replace over medium heat and stir while cooking until sauce thickens. Season to taste, add the egg and mix very well. Cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Croquettes: Season roast beef with salt, pepper, spring onion and lemon to taste. Mix in béchamel sauce and chill overnight.

Take a generous spoonful and use hands to form an oversized egg-shaped, cylindrical croquette. Roll croquette in crumbs, then egg, then crumbs. Chill overnight before cooking or freeze.

Deep fry in peanut oil at 350° until golden brown. If croquettes are frozen, thaw partially, not entirely before cooking—about 2-3 hours. Some folks might enjoy a rich, brown gravy spooned over the croquettes; my family preferred drizzling with freshly squeezed lemon juice while piping hot.

Makes 36-48 croquettes; frozen croquettes keep quite well in freezer bags.

I have no idea if this is an “original” American recipe. But this was my, by request, traditional birthday dinner. I always thought I was pretty smart because it meant the family got to have roast beef one night and then beef croquettes made from the left over roast another night. My mother made this dish for me for many years. She’s American, so I figure that makes this an American dish.

Chocolate cheesecake fit for the gods

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup powdered sugar
12 tbsp melted unsalted butter

2 lbs cream cheese (@ room temp.)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
5 whole eggs (@ room temp.)
4 oz. semi-sweet melted chocolate

Crust: Butter and flour a 9-inch springform cake pan. Set aside. Mix graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and butter together. Press crust into bottom and sides of cake pan. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.

Filling: Mix cream cheese on low speed for 10 min. Add sugar and lemon juice. Mix to blend. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Pour all but one cup of filling into prepared crust. Melt chocolate and add slowly to reserved cup of filling. Use a pastry tube and starting from center, draw a spiral onto cake batter. Using the tip of a knife and starting from the center, lightly pull the knife tip through the spiral as if cutting cheesecake into quarters. Repeat, “cutting” quarters in half, from center to rim or, to alter the design, draw from rim to center.

Bake at 300° for about 1 hour. Cake should be golden brown, pulling away from sides of pan and barely firm in the center. Allow to cool for several hours before placing in refrigerator overnight.

Variations: Try substituting sambuca or amaretto for lemon juice!!

Broccoli Pasticcio

2-3 cups broccoli florets
4 tbsp butter
4 eggs
salt (to taste)
½ cup grated reggiano parmesan (more or less; according to taste)
diced red bell pepper (optional; for color & sweetness)

Variations: green beans & sweet onion; oysters & spinach; asparagus & red bell pepper; mix and match your favorite flavors.

¼ cup bread crumbs (homemade with good bread = better crust)
6-8in. springform (or soufflé) pan

Preheat oven to 375°. Sauté broccoli (and other veggies, if using) in 3 tbsp. butter over medium high heat & season with salt to taste. The idea here is to lightly pre-cook (soften); don’t overcook. Set aside to cool.

Lightly beat eggs in large mixing bowl, then fold in parmesan. Smear remaining butter in springform pan and coat with bread crumbs. Tap out excess crumbs.

Prepare béchamel sauce. Add broccoli to eggs and fold together. Add ½ cup béchamel and fold in, then add remaining béchamel, fold well and pour into springform pan. (If you add all of the sauce at once, the heat will curdle the eggs.) Sprinkle extra parmesan on top.

Bake for 45 minutes until golden on top. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Béchamel Sauce:
1½ cups milk
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
salt (to taste)
white (or black) pepper (to taste)
nutmeg (grated to taste; a little goes a long way)

Making a roux:
Heat milk over low heat in small pot; don’t let it burn. Melt butter over low to medium low heat in separate pot, add flour when butter begins to bubble, stirring briskly with a whisk. Cook 4-5 minutes. Do not let flour brown.

Add hot milk to roux in small amounts, about half a cup at a time, stirring (whisking) briskly until all milk has been incorporated. Place over medium low to medium heat, add salt and cook while stirring until sauce is as dense as thick cream. If it seems too thick, add a little more hot milk (or water) at a time; stirring until it has the right consistency. It should smoothly coat a wooden spoon; not completely running off, nor sticking.

Some thoughts about rouxs (for the novice cook):
Mastering how to make a roux is a wonderfully versatile technique for making many kinds of sauces (or gravies)…from this white, creamy béchamel sauce to the other spectrum…a deep brown and nutty tasting Cajun roux.

Whether it’s a white sauce or a brown sauce, the key is not to burn the flour. For white sauces, you only want to cook the roux enough so that the sauce doesn’t taste like flour. For brown sauces, you want to brown, not burn the flour, to get the color and that nutty flavor. The best technique for controlling heat is simply to lift the pot or pan off and continue whisking until the bubbling subsides somewhat and then replace over heat.

This recipe may feel a little challenging the first time around, but it’s actually pretty easy once you are comfortable making the roux.

Cook with love! Eat with family & friends! Hope you enjoy!

A little taste of Sichuan

Spicy Sichuan Chicken Wings

jiān chuānwèi là jīchì

18 chicken wings
2-4 tbsp. Sichuan pepper paste
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
1 tbsp. crushed ginger
1 tbsp. peanut oil
1 tsp. soy vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sesame seed oil
6 dried red (hot) peppers

Note: the dried red peppers (optional) are for extra fire; most Sichuan pepper paste isn’t all that hot…use less of the paste for a lighter flavor.

Wash and dry chicken wings; set aside. In large bowl, combine all ingredients; plop in the chicken wings and fold the sauce over them. Let it all marinade for 2-4 hours, periodically stir everything to spread the love; the longer the better, but 30 minutes will do if pressed for time. Heat large frying pan over medium heat, add enough peanut oil to lightly cover bottom of pan. When oil is hot, place chicken wings in pan skin-side down. Cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes and then turn and brown the other side. Serve immediately, though they’re darn tasty anytime. Garnish with green onion for a splash of color.

Jenny shi Sichuanren, so this is an authentic Sichuan cai (dish), although I dabbled with it a bit.