Classic Cookbooks: Chicken with Sliced Lemon and Fried Onions Recipe

Classic Cookbooks: Chicken with Sliced Lemon and Fried Onions Recipe

One of the first Madhur Jaffrey meat recipes I ever tried was a goat stew. Although she recommends that Americans replace the goat with lamb, I’m open to new meats, and someone at the Greenmarket was actually selling goat for stew, so I thought, why not?

Well, my adventuresomeness was not rewarded. I don’t know if it was the recipe (which included at least 8 tablespoons of oil) or the goat (which gave off a lot of fat), but the stew tasted mostly of grease and gristle.

Presumably much has changed in both India and the United States since An Invitation to Indian Cooking was written more than three decades ago, but Jaffrey tells us that Indian meat is leaner and tougher than what we find in America. (She also vividly recalls the days when you bought chicken live from a barefoot man who brought a basket of “indignant” poultry to your house, and she describes vegetables and gardens that will make you cry if you bring them to mind while shopping for produce at your supermarket.) Until I can find some really lean goat to give that stew another go, I’ll happily stick with chicken, such as chicken with sliced lemon and fried onions. This recipe yields very tender chicken and a thick, delicious onion gravy; it would, I think, be an excellent gateway dish for people who think they don’t like Indian food.

  • Yield:4-6


  • 3-3 1/2 pounds bone-in, skinless chicken pieces (I used all thighs; it’s easy to remove the skin yourself, if you can’t find bone-in, skinless parts)
  • 3 medium-sized onions
  • A piece of fresh ginger, about 1-inch cube, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 8 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used only 6)
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


  1. 1.

    If the chicken pieces are skin-on, remove the skin. Rinse and pat dry.

  2. 2.

    Peel the onions. Chop two of them coarsely and put them into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Cut the third one in half lengthwise, then slice it into thin half-rounds and set aside.

  3. 3.

    Add 6 tablespoons of water, the ginger, and the garlic to the onions in the food processor or blender and blend at high speed until you have a smooth paste.

  4. 4.

    Heat 6 tablespoons of the oil (I used 4) in a 10-12 inch pot over medium-high flame. When hot, put in the sliced onions and fry them, stirring, until they are darkish brown and crisp, though not burned. Remove onions with a slotted spoon and leave them to drain on paper towels.

  5. 5.

    In the same oil, brown the chicken pieces on all sides until they are golden. Do this speedily over high flame so the chicken browns but does not cook through. I did the thighs about 2 minutes per side. You will need to do it in at least 2 batches. Remove the chicken with slotted spoon to a bowl or plate.

  6. 6.

    Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot. Pour in the paste from the blender (turn your face away!). Stirring, fry on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until the paste turns a nice golden brown. Now put in the coriander, cumin, and turmeric and fry, stirring continuously; after another 2 minutes add yogurt, a teaspoon at a time; after 2 or 3 minutes, the tomato sauce, a tablespoon at a time, continuing to stir and fry. Finally, add salt, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper, and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

  7. 7.

    Cut the lemon into 4 or 5 slices, discarding the end pieces, and remove the seeds. Add lemon slices along with the chicken pieces, fried onions, sugar, and the ground pepper to the sauce, stir, and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender, turning the pieces every now and then. If chicken sticks to the bottom of pot, add a little more water. You should end up with a very thick sauce. (My sauce was thick but also copious and in no danger of sticking. I don’t know if it was correct, but it tasted good.)