Lemon and chicken have got to be my very favorite pairing. It all started long ago with Marcella Hazan’s classic Lemon Garlic Chicken (see recipe here). That recipe inspired a Lemon Garlic Chicken Panino (see recipe here). Later while living in LA, I fell in love with the Lemon Garlic Chicken…Cuban style fromVersailles restaurant (see recipe here). Then yet another recipe for Lemon Roasted Chicken (see here). My affection for the pairing is obvious enough and yet I somehow overlooked the most obvious pairing of all, Limoncello and Chicken.
Limoncello has been a favorite apertivo for years. Intensely lemony though just sweet enough to tame the sharp bite of lemon juice. Limoncello is synonymous with the sun drenched coasts of Southern Italy that are dotted with lemon orchards from Sardinia to Naples, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, and southward to Sicily. Homemade Limoncello is how it all began more than a century ago and easy enough to make with very little effort. There are various recipes available online. Fortunately Limoncello became so popular it is produced commercially and available world wide. Most often served chilled after a meal, although try it for a late afternoon refresher with a splash of sparkling water. And not to be overlooked, bringing Limoncello into the kitchen opens up whole new ways of seasoning with lemon for savory dishes as well as sweets. The slight sweetness is ideal for poultry, pork, or fish.
The recipe that follows is adaptable. Braise the chicken in the oven, on the stove top, or marinate the chicken for grilling and serve with reduced marinade/sauce. For the sake of ease I have used skin on legs, thighs, and breasts, but by all means cut up a whole chicken if you like.
Keep in mind the chicken should be marinated for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours so plan ahead!
Braised Limoncello Chicken Serves 4
- 4 each; skin on chicken legs, boneless thighs, and boneless breasts
- 1/3 cup minced shallots
- 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and microplaned
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup Limoncello
- 3 to 4 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups chicken stock, heated
- 2 lemons, very thinly sliced across
- ½ cup sliced fresh basil leaves
Equipment: A non-reactive bowl and a large oven proof skillet or wide braising pan
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Cut the breasts in half across.
In a large non-reactive bowl combine the shallots, garlic, lemon juice, 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and ½ cup Limoncello, Stir until the salt has has dissolved into the liquid.
Add the chicken and massage the marinade into the chicken flesh. Press the chicken into the marinade until covered. Seal the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 425f/220c if oven braising.
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator. Pick the chicken pieces out of the marinade and slide the chicken pieces between your fingers to remove any bits of shallots and excess marinade clinging to the flesh and place on a plate. Then pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and set aside on another clean plate.
Place the skillet or braising pan over medium high heat and add the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down, without crowding, and cook until the skin releases from the bottom of the pan easily and is nicely browned. Turn the chicken over and again cook until nicely browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken.
When you have finished browning the chicken, using paper towels, remove any excess oil and burned bits from the pan.
Place the pan back on the stove top over medium heat and add another 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil. When hot add the marinade, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Then arrange the browned chicken snugly into the pan in a single layer. Add 1 cup of heated stock and jiggle the pan to distribute the stock evenly. Layer lemon slices over the entire surface of the chicken. When the liquid comes back to a full simmer transfer the pan to the preheated oven and braise for 25 to 30 minutes.
If you want to braise the chicken on the stove top simply continue cooking. Be sure to keep an eye on the pan juices and add more stock as needed. Keep in mind the lemon slices will not brown, but otherwise the dish will taste nearly the same as the chicken braised in the oven.
After 25 to 30 minutes, if oven braising, open the oven door, slide the oven rack forward, and add the remaining 1/3 cup Limoncello over the chicken. Add more stock only if the pan juices have reduced and are no longer visible. Taste the pan juice and stir in more salt if needed. Then scatter the basil over all and slide the chicken back into the oven and cook another 15 minutes or until the pan juices are bubbling vigorously and the lemon slices are browned around the edges.
Otherwise, if you are stove top braising, add the Limoncello, basil, and salt if needed and continue braising another 15 minutes, or until the pan juices have reduced slightly.
Remove from the oven, or turn off the heat on the stove top, and set aside for a couple of minutes before serving.
As pictured, I like to serve Limoncello Chicken with plenty of its lemony pan juices along with tender braised cabbage with anise and fluffy couscous with currants.
This is a winning meal that is sure to please again and again!