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Father's Day Cooking: Crispy Lemon Chicken

Chef and TV star Alex Guarnaschelli shares a menu inspired by her father’s passion for Chinese food, with 12 suggested wine pairings
Photo by: Johnny Miller
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli likens this enticing dish to “Chinese fried chicken.”

Samantha Falewée
Posted: June 8, 2018

Scallion pancakes, spicy pork dumplings, soy and sesame chicken … chef Alex Guarnaschelli grew up with two Italian-American parents who loved to cook, but often what appeared on the dinner table was Chinese food. Though her mother, Maria, was a cookbook editor, testing recipes and working on tomes like Joy of Cooking, her father, John, most enjoyed experimenting at home with Chinese spices, soy sauces and vinegars.

Crispy fried lemon chicken “is a dish he would make for me all the time,” Guarnaschelli says. “My father was a big weeknight cook because my mother often worked late, so he did a lot of the cooking.”

It’s no surprise Guarnaschelli decided at a young age that she wanted to become a chef. She trained at La Varenne culinary school in Burgundy before moving on to work at Guy Savoy in Paris and then Daniel, the Grand Award–winning restaurant in New York. In 2003, she became executive chef at Butter in Manhattan, having previously managed the restaurant’s wine program. You’ve probably seen her as a judge on Food Network's Chopped and defending champion of The Next Iron Chef: Redemption; her new digital series Fix Me a Plate debuted in March.

Squire Fox
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli starts shooting season two of 'Fix Me a Plate' in July.

Guarnaschelli's suggested Father’s Day menu—which pairs My Dad’s Lemon Chicken with sweet and spicy Broiled Chinese Five-Spice Onions and rounds off the meal with delightfully textured Sesame Seed Wafer Sandwich Cookies—is about balance. “There’s just enough spice in each of these dishes that your palate isn't all over the place,” Guarnaschelli explains. “There’s enough room to taste all of them together and also a real opportunity for wines, like the ones we’ve selected, that can come in and tie it all together.”

Which wines does she favor? For a white, try a dry Tokaji like the medium-bodied Royal Tokaji The Oddity 2015, made from the Hungarian grape variety Furmint, typically used in the region’s sweet wines. “I love Tokaji in a traditional sense … I thought, why not show that something can have a different side to it?” says Guarnaschelli. The Royal “is particularly tasty with the lemony note of the chicken.”

If dry Tokaji isn’t easy to find, try a Chardonnay like the Grgich Hills Napa Valley 2014. “The wine has complex fruit character supported by a unique mineral component, with bright acidity,” she says. “[It’s] light on its feet, but bold enough for chicken.” Or go for a rosé with a bit more body and structure, like the Château Gassier Le Pas du Moine Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017.

If Dad is hankering for a red no matter what, well, this is his day to choose. Guarnaschelli suggests the Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Crianza Rioja 2014. “A Rioja can come into the room swinging, and in my opinion, not much other than a pound of steak drenched in black pepper stands a chance against a lot of Riojas.” But the lighter-style Sierra Cantabria is not overpowering, supporting the heartier aspects of the fried chicken and broiled onions.

Below, Wine Spectator shares 12 recently rated wines—similar selections of whites, rosés and reds—to please everyone at the table.

The recipes have been written with simplicity—and minimal cleanup—in mind. The Broiled Chinese Five-Spice Onions, which integrate soy sauce, butter and a hint of lime, can be made in under 20 minutes. But before diving into My Dad’s Lemon Chicken, note that the recipe suggests leaving the marinated chicken thighs in the fridge for four to six hours—but not longer—to create a beautifully crispy layer on the chicken come mealtime.

“That marinating rule is really one to stick by,” says Guarnaschelli. “It’s not do or die, but … [marinating overnight] changes the texture of the chicken. It becomes overkill and the chicken gets tough and elastic.”

Guarnaschelli’s other tip, and the secret to making this dish a winner, is to prepare everything else ahead of time and wait to cook the chicken until the last minute.

“It’s basically a Chinese fried chicken, and you know how good it is when you bite into fried chicken and it’s just at that tipping point of almost burning your mouth,” she says. The lemon sauce—flaunting an addictive tang of citrus and ginger—drizzled over the hot, crispy chicken heightens the effect, Guarnaschelli says: “People just freak out.”

So for this meal, she says, “Lay it all out—set the table; put out the onions in a little covered dish; set out the wafers; pour the wine. And then fry that chicken.”


Reprinted from The Home Cook: Recipes to Know by Heart. Copyright © 2017 by Alex Guarnaschelli. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Johnny Miller. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

My Dad’s Lemon Chicken

  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, grated
  • 6 cups peanut oil
  • 1 lemon, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/2 small Thai (bird’s eye) chile

1. Marinate the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with 3 tablespoons of the cornstarch until smooth. Season the chicken on all sides with salt, and submerge in the egg mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 6 hours.

2. Make the lemon sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine the soy sauce, lemon juice, white vinegar and sugar. Simmer over medium heat until the flavors come together and the sugar has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, and simmer for 1 additional minute. Remove from the heat and keep the sauce warm.

3. Fry the chicken: Pour the peanut oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot (or wok) and bring it to 350° F over medium-low heat. (Use a deep-frying thermometer to monitor the temperature as it heats.) Remove the chicken from any liquid in the bowl and spread it in an even layer on a baking sheet. Use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of cornstarch in an even layer over all sides of the chicken pieces. Drop some of the lemon slices carefully into the oil and fry until light brown with crisped edges, just 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel. In batches, add the chicken to the hot oil and cook until crispy and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to the baking sheet. Season with salt.

4. Finish the dish: Stir the lemon slices and fresh chile into the sauce. Arrange the fried chicken pieces on a platter and pour the sauce over them. Serve immediately. Serves 2 to 4.


Broiled Chinese Five-Spice Onions

Johnny Miller
Charring the onions slightly brings out their natural sweetness, which is set against soy sauce and five-spice powder.

  • 3 1/2 pounds cippolini onions, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons five-spice powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lime

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Cook the onions: Arrange the onions in a single layer in a large ovenproof skillet and add the olive oil, soy sauce, five-spice powder and 1 cup of water. Add the butter and simmer gently over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the onions are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Broil the onions: Put the skillet under the broiler and broil until the onions brown further on the top, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle the lime zest and juice over the onions. Serves 4 to 6.


Sesame Seed Wafer Sandwich Cookies

Johnny Miller
Splashes of red wine vinegar and Grand Marnier elevate the soft filling of these nutty, crunchy cookies.

For the dough:

  • 1 cup white sesame seeds
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

    2. Toast the sesame seeds: Spread the sesame seeds in a thin, even layer on a different rimmed baking sheet. Toast the seeds in the oven until they are golden-brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.

    3. Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until the butter becomes fluffy and doubles in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. When the butter and brown sugar are fully integrated, add the egg and vanilla and mix until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the dry ingredients and 1/2 cup of the toasted sesame seeds. You want to combine without overmixing. The less you stir the flour, the more tender the cookie!

    4. Roll and bake the cookies: Using your hands, roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll each ball in the remaining sesame seeds to coat. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart (the cookies spread as they bake). Gently press down on each ball to flatten it slightly. Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until the cookies are browned on the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 5 to 8 minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

    5. Make the filling: In a small saucepan, bring the honey to a simmer over medium heat. When it begins to froth and turn light brown, after 2 to 3 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the Grand Marnier. Return the pan to the heat—carefully, to avoid potentially flaming up the alcohol—and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to allow the Grand Marnier to cook into the honey. Stir in the marmalade and red wine vinegar and simmer, whisking from time to time, until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Allow the filling to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

    6. Assemble the cookies: Spread out half of the cookies so they are flat side up, and spoon the filling on top. Top with the remaining cookies. Makes 24 to 28 cookies.


    12 Recommended Wines

    Note: The following lists are selections of very good to outstanding wines from recently rated releases. You can check Wine Spectator’s Wine Ratings Search for more Chardonnays, rosés and red Riojas.

    Fresh Chardonnays

    LAIRD FAMILY Chardonnay Carneros Cold Creek 2016 Score: 90 | $30
    Pure and tasty, with complex pear, melon, fig and citrus presented in an elegant, graceful style. From California. Drink now. 1,800 cases made.—James Laube

    LAPOSTOLLE Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Cuvée Alexandre Atalayas Vineyard 2015 Score: 90 | $24
    Pure tasting, with lithe minerality and spiciness to the mouthwatering flavors of quince, ripe pear, apple and dried peach. Ginger and spice on the plush finish. From Chile. Drink now through 2020. 1,000 cases imported.—Kim Marcus

    SANTA BARBARA WINERY Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2016 Score: 90 | $18
    Offers rich white fruit and spice flavors, supported by bright acidity. Green apple, fig and ripe melon dominate on the palate, mixing with buttery accents and ending with hints of sage honey on the finish. From California. Drink now through 2023. 11,500 cases made.—K.M.

    Refreshing Rosés

    JERÔME CHOBLET Grolleau Gris Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Domaine des Herbauges 2016 Score: 88 | $15
    Pink grapefruit, rose water, peach skin and verbena notes mingle here, with a rounded edge offset by a flash of wet pebbles through the finish. Light bodied, fun change of pace. From France. Drink now. 1,850 cases imported.—James Molesworth

    BODEGA GARZÓN Pinot Noir Uruguay Rosé Reserve 2017 Score: 88 | $19
    Steely rosé, with flavors of dried cherry and berry with notes of graphite. Clean, fresh finish with some spicy hints. From Uruguay. Drink now. 1,000 cases imported.—K.M.

    LEONE DE CASTRIS Salento Rosato Five Roses 2017 Score: 88 | $20
    A bright and juicy rosé, offering ripe strawberry and watermelon flavors with hints of dried herb and almond. Stone-tinged finish. From Italy. Drink now. 1,166 cases imported.—Alison Napjus

    TENUTA DELLE TERRE NERE Etna Rosato 2016 Score: 88 | $21
    A fresh and creamy rosé, driven by minerally smoke and stone notes layered with dried cherry, strawberry and orange peel flavors. From Italy. Drink now. 1,500 cases imported.—A.N.

    Bright Riojas

    BODEGAS MARQUES DE MURRIETA Rioja Finca Ygay Reserva 2013 Score: 91 | $29
    A sleek texture delivers bright cherry and red plum flavors, with leafy, licorice and vanilla notes. Firm tannins and racy acidity give it focus. A fresh and energetic red. Drink now through 2025. 10,000 cases imported.—Thomas Matthews

    BODEGAS SIERRA CANTABRIA Rioja Reserva Única 2013 Score: 91 | $35
    Dark chocolate and coffee notes frame ripe currant and black plum flavors in this generous red. Firm tannins support the plush texture and balsamic acidity gives this balance. Shows impressive concentration for the vintage. Drink now through 2025. 3,000 cases imported.—T.M.

    BODEGAS BURGO VIEJO Rioja Juglar del Rey Crianza 2014 Score: 89 | $14
    Currant and cranberry flavors mingle with tar, espresso and licorice flavors in this polished red. Firm tannins are well-integrated, giving way to a spicy, smoky finish. Balanced. Drink now through 2024. 10,000 cases imported.—T.M.

    BODEGAS OLARRA Rioja Añares Reserva 2013 Score: 89 | $20
    Black cherry and plum flavors mingle with vanilla, spice and light tobacco notes in this plump red. Light tannins and orange peel acidity give it grip and balance. Drink now through 2021. 3,000 cases imported.—T.M.

    BODEGAS RAMÓN BILBAO Rioja Crianza 2014 Score: 88 | $13
    Cocoa and smoky notes give way to tangy flavors of tart cherry and cranberry, fueled by sweet-tart acidity in this firm red. It has good density, with firm tannins and a clean finish. Drink now through 2024. 10,000 cases imported.—T.M.


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