I’ve always wanted to unravel the mysteries of takeaway dishes, then I’d be able to not only make my own at home, but also control the amount of sugar, oil and salt included. One of the first I attempted was this. Fellow photographer Katie has acted as a willing test subject, and later, main consumer of my lemon chicken, of which I should take some pride as she is one of the ones that only ever orders sweet and sour when she calls in to her local. Yes, it’s not really proper Chinese, but it is authentic English Chinese takeaway, and it’s a simple starting point and great partner to egg-fried rice.
The breading process is very straight forward, but I still find it a bit fiddly myself at times. However it is good to learn because this is the basis for schnitzel and also the cutlets used in tonkatsu (for those of you who are hooked on Wagamamas’ branded ‘Katsu Curry’). As I always pair this with egg-fried rice, I use the eggs that I’m going to use for the rice to coat the chicken (although I like to spare the yolks because they are better saved for the rice). Once the chicken is cooking, I pour what’s left of the whites back in to the cup with the yolks, ready for the egg-fried rice.
I wet or soak the chicken in a splash of milk. The chicken is then moved quickly through the steps of coating – flour, egg, breadcrumbs (each in their own dish), so lay out these ingredients in the correct sequence. You can either grate the bread on a cheese grater or break it up in a blender, it’s best to also season with salt and pepper, and I sometimes include grated garlic or herbs.
The chicken can be cooked in the oven, or deep-fried. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes on 160c, try to develop a sense for how firm a cooked chicken breast feels, then you can press on it to assess whether it’s cooked enough. When deep frying, don’t let it exceed 170c or the coating will burn. Cook for around 10-12 minutes, you’ll hear it go mental near the end when juice from the chicken finds its way out of the coating.
The cornflour base to the sauce can also be modified in to other Chinese takeaway sauces (Orange chicken should be fairly obvious…), and I sometimes use it in place of wheat flour when making macaroni cheese. Less is needed and it provides a smoother result, if that is what you favour. If you haven’t used cornflour before, it converts in to its thickened state once it reaches a certain temperature. You first need to blend it with a small amount of water as you would with wheat flour (although cornflour is much more forgiving), then add another portion of water and blend again, continue until all the water is added and the solution is smooth.
Place it on high heat then begin to stir continuously. If you notice lumps beginning to appear, you may have the heat too high or be stirring too slowly. Keep stirring until it is evenly thick and translucent.
If you want to thicken it further, don’t add the cornflour to the sauce, instead put it in a cup or small bowl and blend with a small amount of water. Then you can add the mixture to your sauce, and blend it well as it converts. Once the sauce has cooled it can be reheated, but it will have congealed and won’t return so its original silky state, so it’s best to finish the sauce last and serve it straight away.
Avoid cooking the lemon peel, as the sauce will become embittered, lime peel will cause this markedly more so. Just add the pieces at the end of cooking, squash the segments a little with the spoon once they are in the pot, and stir in the extra juice. You could even go all the way and use food colouring!
Don’t forget to put your rice on first if you are making egg-fried rice to accompany this dish, and get the oven / oil on for your preferred chicken-cooking procedure. Work on your sauce once the chicken is on, to the point you can leave it simmering until adding the sliced lemon. Make your egg-fried rice and plate up, then quickly stir fry additional vegetables. Remove and slice your chicken (if eating with chopsticks), partially cover the chicken and rice with the lemon sauce.
1 Chicken breast soaked in a splash of milk
– Roll in the following:
1 Tbsp flour
2 Egg whites
Bread crumbs from ½ a bread roll
– Roll. Cook in the oven 160 20 minutes / deep-fried 160 12 minutes
1 ½ Tbsp corn flour
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
150ml / 2/3 Cup of water
– Add water gradually ’til blended. Convert corn flour
¼ Juiced lemon
– Stir. Turn off heat
¼ Sliced lemon
– Squeeze, stir, serve
I like to serve with chopped pepper, broccoli, diced onion or pak choi, quickly cooked in the wok.
Use lime instead of lemon for the sauce, but be careful to not cook the peel at all.
Try different spices in the coating, experiment!