Chinese lemon chicken is a popular takeaway item that is so easy to recreate at home. With a bit of guidance, anyone can master this sweet and crispy Chinese-style fried chicken dish!
In this article, we’ll find out how to make this dish using an oven or air fryer. We’ll also learn how to marinade different poultry parts - thigh or breast- and to make the accompanying sauce. Continue reading to learn how to cook this easy lemon chicken recipe at home within the hour!
What is it?
Chinese lemon chicken is cooked with bite-sized pieces of boneless, skinless chicken. The meat is fried until golden and crispy, then served with sweet and sour sauce.
It is best eaten as a side dish with cooked white rice, or together with other Chinese side dishes.
The dish was invented in Hong Kong and served in various Chinatown restaurants in Western countries. Yes, Chinese lemon chicken is actually not from China. The dish became popular because of its tangy sauce and fried bits, a result of Chinese immigrants customising Asian dishes to Western preferences.
While its origins are unknown, many cookbooks refer to it as a British or Canadian fusion dish. There are adapted versions in Britain, Canada, America, and Australasia.
This dish deserves a spot among the top selection of Chinese takeaway dishes. Other competing dishes include sweet and sour chicken balls and salt and pepper chicken.
Chinese lemon chicken is so delicious as the tangy sweetness of citrus sauce cleanses the palate. Greasiness disappears, but you’ll still get the crispy goodness.
The meat remains flavourful inside-out, despite being covered with sauces. Eaten with plain white rice or fried chow mein, the citrus sauce makes a wonderful gravy.
A typical serving of Chinese lemon chicken has an estimated calorie of 200 kcal. This is for every 100 grams of meat used in the dish.
The ingredients for this recipe can be divided into four main parts. First, choose a choice of poultry cut - wing, drumstick or breast. Next, lemons for the sauce, and cornstarch for the batter. Finally, there are some extra ingredients indicated below for the marinade.
Cuts of meat
We can use chicken thighs or breasts to cook Chinese lemon chicken. An alternative choice is to use wings. The thighs would cook slightly longer than the breasts, and the wings would cook faster. Let’s explore the difference among the different cuts.
The thighs are tender and packed with flavour compared to the breasts. Appearance-wise, the part is dark with skin that protects the fat. This is monounsaturated fat, supposed to help with weight loss and lower cholesterol.
The breasts, in contrast, are tough and lean comparatively. Although they can be bought with the skin, these are usually harder to find. For a healthier version of Chinese lemon chicken, you can choose breast meat since it has less fat.
If neither types of cut are available, choose wings. The skin to meat ratio of wings is higher, so it cooks faster. For someone who prioritises the crispy goodness of the dish, wings are a good choice. The wings contain large amounts of Vitamins A and B which are good for your immune system.
If you switch the meat to pork, and you can also cook sweet and sour pork chop with the same ingredients as the Chinese lemon chicken recipe.
Sauce and Batter
To make the lemon chicken sauce, we need to find juicy citrus fruits. For lemons, choose those that are not green, but are dark yellow and feel heavy. This indicates freshness and juiciness.
Cornstarch, egg with soy sauce and Chinese wine are ingredients used for the batter. Sherry or white vinegar can substitute wine. If you want an extra yellow Chinese Lemon Chicken, you can buy food colouring. You can also pick up some oyster sauce for extra seasoning.
These ingredients are easily available at the supermarket.
Cut the meat into small pieces and submerge in the batter. 20-30 minutes is great for a stronger flavour, but 5 minutes is enough if you are in a hurry.
A tasty lemon chicken marinade combines citrusy juice with olive oil. Add extra flavour by using its zest. Season it using freshly ground black pepper and herbs such as rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme, and garlic. Parsley and peppers make a spicier citrus marinade.
If you add soy sauce and substitute peanut oil for olive oil, you’ll achieve a more Asian flavour. The ideal measurement is ½ cup of marinade for every 400g (1 pound) of meat.
Marinate the meat for 2 hours using an airtight container in the refrigerator. Anything longer and the fruit juice will break down the protein fibres, making it rubbery, even mushy. You will not like a spongy-tasting Chinese lemon chicken! Ensure it is covered completely in marinade. Avoid a metal container as the acid in the marinade will react with the metal.
To ensure your Chinese lemon chicken turns out perfectly, take note of these cooking tips.
- Once marination is done, pour the meat together with the marinade into the cornstarch. Then spread over the pieces evenly, smoothing the cornstarch around the meat strips for perfect browning.
- Coat the sauce evenly on each meat strip, so that each bite is an aromatic, tart sensation.
- In order to have a less oily version of the dish, use an air fryer or oven. Alternatively, use olive oil to deep fry as it contains healthy fat that protects heart diseases.
- Finally, to enjoy the fried lemon chicken thighs or breasts, top it with some white sesame seeds and serve it with rice or chow mein.
Frying in oil
Frying in oil is one way to get crispy Chinese lemon chicken. The temperature should be around 200 degrees celsius (360°F-375°F). When the oil is bubbling, dip the handle of a wooden spoon. If it is stealthily bubbling, you’re ready to cook.
None or too many bubbles means that the pan is too cold or hot. Be careful, the wrong temperature will mean a longer time to cook.
Also, do not add too many ingredients at once as overcrowding results in a temperature drop. The food will also become oilier. Deep frying requires about 5-6 minutes maximum.
Using an Airfryer
For those who are health conscious, you can still get crispy yet healthy Chinese lemon chicken - just use an air fryer. You will not need oil to fry the meat but spray a slight touch of oil anyway for glossiness.
Preheat the fryer to 400 degrees celsius before lowering it to 180 degrees celsius. Cook the meat for 15 minutes. Check that it is cooked by poking the meat slightly. Tender meat without redness means it is cooked thoroughly.
Using an Oven
You can choose to oven bake Chinese lemon chicken. Without oil, baking does not add additional calories to the food. The marinaded meat turns out juicy, tender, and savoury.
Another reason is that frying converts food starch to carcinogens, a cause of heart disease and cancer. Baking does not cause the same reaction.
To bake Chinese lemon chicken, set the oven at 200 degrees celsius and cook for about 30-40 minutes. Every 5 minutes pour marinade sauce over the meat.
Now, let’s find out how to achieve the sauce of perfection.
First, wipe your pan clean of any pieces that could burn while cooking. Sauté garlic and ginger until you can smell its fragrance before pouring in soy sauce, lemon juice.
For more flavour, add chicken stock, sugar, and honey as well as a pinch of salt. This helps to make the sauce of the easy lemon chicken recipe sweeter and thicker.
Some people recommend adding a bit of cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. It really depends on you - if you prefer a thinner sauce, then skip the slurry.
Chinese Lemon Chicken Recipe
- 300 g chicken thigh fillet
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- white pepper
- 1 egg
- 30 g plain flour
- 50 g corn starch
- 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 70 ml water
- sesame seed
- Slice the meat into strips. Marinate for 5 minutes with a mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce, cooking wine, sesame oil, sugar, corn starch, and white pepper.
- Make the batter by first, whisking the egg. Then, mix with plain flour and corn starch. Preheat your oven and grease your cooking sheet or baking dish. Dip the chicken into the batter mixture. Place the chicken on a baking tray. Set aside for 15mins.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degree celcius to get it ready for baking your Chinese lemon chicken. Stick the baking tray in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Every 5-10 minutes, open the oven door to spoon the sauce over the meat.
- Zest lemon and squeeze out the juice. Pour the juice into a wok, add honey and seasoning sauces. Stir corn starch with water. Add its zest, adjust taste accordingly. Add and stir coat the baked meat with the sauce mix, sprinkle sesame seeds and serve.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
We hope you have enjoyed this recipe. If you have tried it, we at Honest Food Talks would love to see your finger-licking good outcome. So tag us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks if you’ve posted Instagram photos of this delicious dish!
Air fryer versiosn are crispier than regular ones - gave it a go and turned out awesome. Though I made sure to turn them around half way through cooking in the air fryer. Thanks for this recipe btw!
Tried out these oven baked version - and i must say that its close enough to the deep fried versions! less crispy so you lse out on the texture bit, but in order to reduce oil, its a great option IMO
These turned out awesome!!