Crispy Chinese Lemon Chicken
This Chinese Lemon Chicken recipe is destined to become a new family favorite thanks to the intoxicating sauce and EXTRA crispy chicken. To make this Chinese Lemon Chicken recipe, bite-size chicken gets tossed in a simple ONE STEP batter then coated in panko, baked or fried then enveloped in a sticky, sweet and tangy. multidimensional lemon sauce that will have you drooling. The sauce is sweet from the honey and apricot preserves, tangy from the lemon juice and red wine vinegar and kicking from the garlic, ginger and chili sauce. The layered complex flavors combined with the crispy, juicy chicken will have everyone combing back for seconds and thirds! Serve this Chinese Lemon Chicken recipe with rice or low carb cauliflower rice, sesame ginger bok choy and you have an easy weeknight meal your whole family will beg you to make again and again!
Servings 6 servings
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts chopped into 1-inch pieces
- Vegetable oil
Whisk together all of the batter ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken, stir until evenly coated. Let sit at room temperature 20-60 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together all of the Lemon Sauce Ingredients in a small saucepan. Set aside.
Add all of the panko to a shallow dish or bowl. Working with a few pieces of chicken at a time, use one hand to remove chicken from batter and pat with paper towels to remove excess batter. Add chicken to panko. With your other hand, toss chicken in panko until evenly coated, pressing panko firmly into chicken. Add more breadcrumbs if needed. Remove to a parchment paper lined tray or baking sheet. Repeat until all chicken is coated.
Add enough vegetable oil to a large fry pan to cover 1/4-1/2 inch up the sides. Heat over medium heat. Once hot, test one piece of chicken, adjust temperature as needed. Working in batches (don’t crowd pan or the chicken won't get crispy), add chicken to pan and pan fry until golden and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove to paper towel lined plates/baking sheet. Repeat.
Meanwhile, whisk Lemon Sauce to recombine and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until thickened. Taste and add additional lemon for tangier, honey for sweeter, chili sauce for spicier if desired.
Transfer chicken to a large bowl. Drizzled lemon sauce over cooked chicken and gently stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Tips for Making Lemon Chicken
- Don’t chop the chicken pieces too small so they remain juicy and are harder to overcook and dry out. The chicken should be chopped 1” thick, erroring on the side of larger.
- The panko is not very forgiving and can easily burn if the oil is too hot, so I recommend an instant-read thermometer. If your oil is too hot, then the panko will brown quickly, but the chicken will stay raw. You can still fry the lemon chicken without a thermometer, but it may be more trial and error.
- When frying the chicken, don’t crowd pan or the chicken won't get crispy. You need to fry it in batches!
- Don’t walk away from the chicken while it is frying become it can turn from crispy to burnt in a flash!
- Use a stainless-steel strainer or slotted spoon to transfer the fried chicken piece to paper towels in a single layer without touching. You don’t want the chicken touching or the pieces will steam and lose crispiness and you don’t want them sitting in oil or they won’t be as crispy. Wait to combine the chicken pieces in a bowl just when you're ready to drizzle with sauce.
- Don't forget to make this YOUR Chinese Lemon Chicken recipe by making it sweeter, tangier, or spicier if desired. Taste the sauce before adding the chicken and make any adjustments necessary. For example, this last time making the recipe I used 3 tablespoons lemon juice but the time before I used 2 tablespoons lemon juice - I must have not had as tart of a lemon this time around.
How to Bake Lemon Chicken
Baked lemon chicken doesn't get as crispy as fried lemon chicken and can even become soggy when coated in the sauce. Still, it can be crunchy if you stick to dipping the chicken in the sauce and not enveloping it in the sauce.
- Place a baking rack on top of a baking sheet and spray with cooking spray; set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread panko into an even layer on a baking sheet. Spray with cooking spray. Bake for 5-8 minutes or until lightly golden; transfer to a bowl so the panko stops baking.
- Use the toasted panko to bread the chicken.
- Place breaded chicken on the prepared baking rack and spray with cooking spray.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes then broil to desired crispiness.
- Instead of drizzling the chicken with the lemon sauce, dip the chicken in the sauce so it stays crispy.
How to Prep Ahead
Even though this Chinese lemon chicken is quick to make, you can still prepare it in stages if that works better for you.
- Lemon Sauce: Whisk the lemon sauce ingredients together but do not simmer/thicken. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. When ready to use, simmer on the stove to thicken. If you make the sauce in advance, make sure to taste the thickened sauce as the lemon juice and some of the other flavors will have mellowed upon refrigeration and might need to be perked up.
- Batter: Whisk the batter ingredients together in a Ziploc freezer bag. It'll keep up to 24 hours in the fridge.
- Chicken: Chop into bite-sized pieces and store in an airtight container for up to 2 days before making the recipe.
How to Store and reheat
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- How to reheat on the stove: Leftovers are best reheated on the stove, even if they are small portions. To reheat, heat a drizzle of vegetable, canola or peanut oil over medium heat in a nonstick skillet. Once hot, add the chicken, stirring occasionally until warmed through.
- Reheating in microwave: Microwaving leftovers is not advised as the chicken can become rubbery and the breading will definitely not be crispy. It is better to reheat in the skillet. If you must reheat in the microwave, microwave on high for 60 seconds, stir, then microwave at 15 second intervals as needed.
How to Freeze
If you are making Lemon Chicken specifically to freeze, then I recommend freezing the fried chicken and lemon sauce separately so the chicken doesn’t get soggy.
- Cook chicken according to directions.
- Let chicken cool to room temperature.
- Transfer chicken to a baking sheet in an even layer so the pieces aren't touching.
- Freeze for 1-2 hours or until the chicken is solid. This prevents the chicken from clumping together.
- Add chicken to a freezer size bag, squeeze out excess air and label.
- Add lemon sauce to a separate airtight container.
- Freeze chicken and sauce separately for up to 3 months.
- When ready to use, defrost chicken and sauce in the refrigerator overnight.