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.]

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