Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus | Image: Laura Messersmith

As inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts I’m following along with Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, in my tiny New York kitchen. Let’s see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Cook Like A Pro”

The Set-up: Ina’s sharing really simple recipes with high impact from chefs and restaurants so we can summon our inner kitchen god(dess) and impress our friends.

The Menu: Lemon Chicken, Sticky Toffee Date Cake, Baked Fontina

0:52 – First up: Lemon Chicken a blast from Ina’s past life when she owned the Barefoot Contessa specialty food shop.

1:17 – Ina explains that the dish takes about five minutes and includes garlic, lemon, thyme and white wine. She definitely has my attention. Tell me more!

2:04 – We also learn that in addition to cooking the chicken this recipe also makes a sauce – efficient.

2:55 – Pro Tip #1: always zest the lemons before squeezing the juice! Also, microplane rasps are the bomb.

3:26 – Pro Tip #2: lightly crush dried spices to release the oils before adding them to the sauce.

4:07 – The sauce is done and Ina recommends putting it in the bottom of the baking dish (versus pouring it over the top) so that the chicken skin browns nicely. Good call!

4:48 – A short soliloquy on the merits of boneless, skin on chicken breasts for entertaining. Ina has the butcher prepare them for her and trust me when I say it’s probably the only way to get them considering it’s tricky to find anything other than boneless skinless these days. Lingering evidence of the low-fat 1990s.

5:14 – Final step before they go into the oven – Ina cuts a whole lemon into eighths and nestled the wedges in between the chicken. I bet that sauce is so so good.

6:39 – The chicken is out of the oven and it looks awesome. I have a feeling that this is going to be the recipe I make….

7:21 – Ina makes some serving suggestions: basmati rice or couscous to soak up the lemon garlic sauce and a green vegetable like steamed string beans. A woman after my own heart – all meals need a green veggie.

10:16 – We’re back with Ina and her friend Laura Donnelly. Ina reminds us that learning to cook isn’t a solitary pursuit, so she’s implored Laura to come and show her how to make one of her specialties: Sticky Toffee Date Cake.

11:27 – Ina and Laura have just finished chopping the most massive pile of dates. Good Lord.

12:34 – Laura doesn’t look anything like the Dowager Countess, but something called Sticky Toffee Date Cake just screams Downton Abbey, right?

13:03 – Oooh, that’s interesting. Dates are acidic, so when Laura adds the baking soda to the water they’ve been boiling in it fizzes up. A good thing because air = fluffy cake.

14:19 – Second cake fluffiness factor: 3 ¼ tablespoons baking powder. If you do much baking you’ll note that’s equal to a metric butt-ton of baking powder.

14:56 – Laura is a pastry chef so I’m trying to extend trust here, but she seems awfully laissez faire about the parchment paper in the cake pans.

15:11 – We get a quick toffee how-to in Laura’s restaurant kitchen and the process seems pretty similar to caramel except it calls for brown sugar instead of white.

16:25 – Cakes are out of the oven and are tapped out of the pan successfully. My trust has been rewarded!

17:43 – Ina and Laura poke the dickens out of both cakes with toothpicks, which looks really fun, but served the purpose of making little spaces for the liquid toffee to soak in. Gardening analogy alert: it’s like aerating a lawn to allow water/fertilizer to reach the roots.

20:51 – Next, Ina’s visiting The Red Cat in Chelsea to learn about making Baked Fontina. It looks like fondue and the cheese from a well-seasoned pizza hopped into a cast iron skillet together.

21:40 – I think I was right. The recipe is essentially: diced Italian Fontina + olive oil + thyme + rosemary + slivered garlic + salt & pepper.

23:16 – Ina gets a little meet & greet love from the chef/owner Jimmy Bradley and they bond over their love of melted cheese.

27:05 – Ask Ina Time and she’s turning the tables and asking restaurant chefs for their tips on how to cook like a pro. Paying close attention here…

27:11 – Kevin Penner (1770 House) says: make your own stock and Daniel Boulud (Daniel) offers a recipe for making your own Light Mayonnaise

28:10 – Ina retakes the reins and answers the age-old question: what makes really good olive oil? She suggests tasting several and looking for a round, non-bitter, full olive flavor.

28:32 – Really getting down to the essentials with question 2: the difference between salts. Ina uses three in order of ‘saltiness’: Kosher salt for cooking, flaked sea salt and fleur de sel for finishing.

29:13 – Final question: how to keep vegetables bright green? The answer: blanching and shocking. I really need a pun here but I’m at a loss….

Final Thoughts:

Making note for the future that Lemon Chicken that can be made almost entirely in advance. Hello, dinner!

Hmm, I really never thought that carefully about salt other than just using Kosher salt for everything. This may require further study…

Still waiting for a ‘blanching & shocking’ joke to occur to me… Let me know if you think of one!

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

I’m not such a huge fan of dates, and baked fontina, while delicious I’m sure, doesn’t really appeal during hot summer months. And, okay I really just wanted to make the Lemon Chicken – you got me!

This recipe is really, really simple, requires minimal ingredients and easy techniques. Honestly, the hardest part might be sourcing the boneless, skin on chicken breasts. I can usually find split chicken breasts with the skin and then with a little willpower/chef’s knife finagling separate the meat from the bones. It doesn’t always look super pretty in process, but it can be done and I’ve noticed that (like with many things) I’m improving with practice.

Do follow Ina’s advice and put the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish, chicken on top so that the skin browns. Even if you don’t intend to eat it, it’s still much more appetizing with a little color.

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Yes, definitely. I used a 9x13 baking dish, a small sauce pan, one chef’s knife, a microplane grater (these really are awesome and take up so little space), a pastry brush, and two cutting boards (one for the chicken prep and one for the garlic, etc.), a liquid measuring cup and spoons. I also found tongs and a rubber spatula helpful, as well as a large serving spoon.

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Verdict:

Mike and I were both very, very happy with the way the Lemon Chicken turned out – it was super flavorful and tender. The flavors of the sauce reminded me of steamed Mussels in White Wine, which is usually paired with crusty bread to soak them up, so I decided to serve it with slices of fresh French baguette compliments of Levain Bakery and (green vegetable alert!) Roasted Asparagus.

This is a perfect recipe for an easy summer dinner that requires almost zero slaving over a hot stove. Cooking the asparagus in the oven during the last 10 minutes makes it even easier.

Roasted Asparagus (serves 4 ppl)


1 pound fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons Kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling

1 teaspoon ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 400° F.

Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus (about ½ inch) and, if stalks are especially thick, peel them.

Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with Kosher salt and ground black pepper then toss to coat the asparagus completely.

Spread the asparagus in a single layer and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until ‘al dente,’ tender but still firm. Time will vary depending on thickness of asparagus stalks; test with the tines of a dinner fork to check tenderness.

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Chicken with Roasted Asparagus | Image: Laura Messersmith