David Lentz's Tweety Scramble
Evan Kleiman's Pizza Margherita

IMBB #24: Amanda Hesser's Lemon Chicken


I might have teased a few readers and friends some posts ago, promising to write the next day about the most amazing chicken recipe I'd made - but then the Tweety Scramble got in the way, and before I knew it it was Friday and people were accusing me of not delivering on the goods. And who am I to stand in the way of hungry, righteous cooks and their recipes?

Without further ado, I present to you the dish that made Ben look up from his plate a few days ago and proclaim firmly that this was the best thing I'd ever cooked for him. Ever. And I tell you, Ben's not the kind of guy to go throwing about proclamations like that as if they were peanuts. I have to admit that he does have a point. This chicken is good. And it's easy. Do I sound like a broken record sometimes with the "easy" and the "simple"? It's just that I feel those things so much contribute to the pleasure of a tasty meal. And in any case, this time it really is sort of the point.

The recipe comes a piece in the New York Times that Amanda Hesser wrote a few years ago about creme fraiche. Creme fraiche is Amanda's best friend: she has single-handedly done more publicity for the joys of creme fraiche than any other contemporary food writer I know. After buying a pot of creme fraiche for the Lemon Pizza last week, I spent the week using up the rest of it. There are certainly worse things in life: a dollop in my scrambled eggs, a fillip swirled into my soup, and several spoons cooked down into the silkiest, most fragrant sauce for chicken I have ever tasted.

All you do is fry some bone-in and well-seasoned chicken (I used two whole legs and two breasts) in a very hot pan until the skin is beautifully browned and crisp. Then you slide the pan into the oven to continue cooking until done. When the juices run clear from the chicken, remove it to a plate while you pour off most of the fat, add in the lemon juice and then the creme fraiche. Pour this golden gravy over your chicken, sprinkle it with a fluffy pile of lemon zest and you're done. The dish tastes bright and creamy at once - if you seasoned the chicken well, you've got a whole sparkling array of flavors to contend with.

To make this a contender for Too Many Chef's "Make It In 30 Minutes" Is My Blog Burning event, put a pot of rice on to boil in chicken stock as you're frying the chicken. While the chicken cooks in the oven, wash and dress a bowl of butter lettuce. By the time you've spooned the sauce over your chicken, the people you're cooking for will be practically begging you to feed them.

Lemon Chicken
Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 whole chicken legs (thighs attached)
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup creme fraiche

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. After 3 minutes, add the butter and oil. Season the chicken generously with salt and very generously with pepper. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and brown well on both sides, turning once.

2. Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a knife.

3. Return the skillet to the stovetop. Transfer the chicken to a platter and keep warm. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet. Place over medium heat, add the lemon juice, and stir to scrape up any pan drippings. Simmer for 1 minute, then add the creme fraiche and stir until melted and bubbling. If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of water. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with lemon zest and additional pepper. Serve hot.