On Day 2 of my slow-cooker experimenting I made a dire mistake. I allowed my day to get away from me and didn't have the luxury of an eight- or ten-hour stretch before dinner. My puttering around the house left me with a mere four hours to make something. On a regular night, that would be more than enough time to prepare an elaborate meal, but cooking with a slow cooker takes time.
I perused the recipes in Stephanie O'Dea's Make it Fast, Cook it Slow eager to find a dish that could be assembled and served at a reasonable hour (or at least before 10 p.m.) There were lots of great recipes that required a six-hour window, but eating at midnight on a weeknight wasn't really an option.
Finally I stumbled upon this recipe for Lemon Chicken in the "Takeout Fake-Out" chapter. The recipes in this section are O'Dea's slow-cooked versions of takeout staples, mostly Thai and Indian curries, Mexican, and Chinese-American dishes.
This chicken preparation isn't really all that Chinese at all, with ingredients such as frozen lemonade concentrate and ketchup it seems more like a relic from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from 1974. But O'Dea loved this dish when she made it for her family and the eclectic list of ingredients left me curious, so why not?
Unlike most other recipes in Make it Fast, Cook it Slow this one calls for some browning of the chicken before it goes into the slow cooker. This additional step helps with the texture of the finished dish, and oftentimes boneless, skinless chicken breasts need all the help they can get.
O'Dea said that this dish completely satisfied her family's craving for Chinese takeout, and hers as well since being gluten intolerant doesn't allow her to eat all that much Chinese food.
So, how did my lemon chicken fair? Well, it was definitely as sticky-sweet as its takeout roots, certainly more of a guilty pleasure meal than one that I would share with company but still, it was kind of great. I'd never even considered making a dish quite like that at home, lead alone in a slow cooker. The sauce brought me back to the thrilling takeout nights of my childhood, sweet and sour, but really much more sweet than sour. Enjoyable and reminiscent in the best possible way. This dish really got me thinking about investing in a few cans of Sterno and attempting a pu pu platter at home, complete with lemon chicken, a can or two of pineapple and plenty of Mai Tais.
Win Make it Fast, Cook it Slow
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Make it Fast, Cook it Slow to give away this week.
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken, cut in 2-inch chunks
- Olive oil for browning the chicken (optional)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 6 ounces (1/2 can) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
Use a 4-quart slow cooker. I hate the idea of precooking food before putting it into the slow cooker, but this is one of those times when it's a good idea. The browning will provide a bit of texture to the outside of the chicken pieces not achieved through slow cooking alone. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour and dump the excess. Brown the chicken on the stovetop in a bit of olive oil. There's no need to fully cook, just get a bit of crust on the outside of the chicken. Place the chicken in the stoneware. Add the other ingredients, and toss gently to coat with the sauce. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Serve over white rice.