Sipping a tall glass of lemonade is such a simple summer treat. When I was a child, my mom always had a big pitcher of lemonade hanging out in the fridge along with a stack of Dixie cups on the side. It made for a quick grab and go drink while running through the house. For if it was summer, I was outside. Seeing the pitcher in the fridge was a definite signal of summer and I use to dread the day when I would open the fridge and it was gone, for that meant school was just around the corner. On a hot summer day, I still enjoy a glass of cold lemonade with frozen lemon wedges. There is just something about it that reminds me of the carefree days of summers past.
So what do you do when you have a wonderful neighbor who delivers fresh lemons from his tree? Make lemonade, of course, and what do you do when you have leftover lemonade? Make lemonade chicken! (Well, I do.)
Chinese Style Lemonade Chicken: Each summer we would go visit my mom’s best friend in California, who also happens to be an excellent cook. Her casual cooking days could be a feature everyday in any gourmet magazine! This recipe is an adaptation of her Chinese Style Fried Chicken, which she always made for us, and is a much lighter version of the Chinese classic, sweet and sour chicken. Let’s get started:
For the batter: In a mixing bowl, blend together 1 cup flour and 2 tsp baking powder. Stir in 1/4 cup oil (your choice, vegetable, corn, canola) and slowly stir in 1/2 cold water. (You may need a little more or less, so add a little at a time.) The batter should resemble a thick pancake batter. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Set aside. (Give the baking soda time to go to work, will make a fluffier coating.)
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
Cut 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast into cubes (about 1 inch)and put into a bowl. In a separate dish, mix 2 TBSP lemonade, (or lemon juice) 1 TBSP low sodium soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp garlic powder. Pour mixture over chicken and toss to coat. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Set up a work station. Chicken, batter, and mini muffin tin. Spray the mini muffin tin with non-stick spray. Make sure you spray each well fully with spray. (This is the key to the oven fry method.) Use a toothpick to pick up a cube of chicken, let the excess drip and dip it into the batter. Place each cube of chicken into a well. Use another toothpick to get the chicken off the first toothpick (keeps hands clean!) Spray the top of each chicken cube with non-stick spray. Bake at 475 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven. Run butter knife around edges of each well to loosen chicken “nuggets” before popping out tin.
For the lemonade sauce: In a small saucepan, add 1 cup lemonade (or juice of 3-4 lemons making up any difference with water), 1 TBSP honey, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Mix well. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat whisking occasionally until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Serve the sauce over the chicken “nuggets” or on the side as a dipping sauce. Want the full Chinese take-out experience? Serve with fried rice (sauce is good over plain rice, too), lo mein noodles, or stir fry vegetables. Enjoy!
Put your TO COOK IS TO CREATE thinking cap on: Do you make any flavored lemonades? Cherry lemonade would make a tasty sweet and sour sauce, too. Instead of vanilla, what other flavor or extracts can be added to the batter? How about a liqueur? Want more lemon taste, add some lemon zest to the batter. What else besides chicken? Pork and fish are good but the tempura style batter works on vegetables, too. Try squash or zucchini “nuggets”. Don’t like ginger? Try Chinese five spice powder or onion powder, or mix it up with your favorite seasoning. Like it spicy? Go ahead, add cayenne pepper to the sauce and hot sauce to the chicken!
FOOD FUN: Still have a lone lemon sitting around? Remember Potato Chip Cookies? Simply omit the potato chip crumbs and add the juice of that lemon (or lemonade), about 2 TBSP, for Lemon Cookies! I love mine with 1 TBSP white chocolate chips added. Don’t throw away the hollowed out lemons. Keep them on hand in the freezer. Remember they can be used to float tea candles, serve sherbet or tartar sauce, or used for zest.