My Lemon Chicken is based on a dish we used to have at one of our favourite pubs, The Spread Eagle in Rolleston on Dove, Staffordshire. There has been a pub on the site since the 16th century, and the whole place is steeped in history.
When we moved from Kent to the Midlands fifteen years ago, the Spread Eagle was where we stayed while we looked for a house. Family friendly and serving great food ‘The Spread’, as so many regulars call it, features in many of our son’s first memories. The publican back in those days had a lovely wife, and she used to take our son back through the kitchens into the garden to play with their pet rabbits. The imposing statue of the spread eagle itself sat in the fireplace in those days, and our little boy used to stand beside it and tentatively stroke its head. Our favourite dishes were the Lemon Chicken or the ‘Whale of a Fish’ and Chips. It was one of my Dad’s favourite pubs and we always used to go there when my parents visited from Canada.
Fifteen years later, there have been more publicans at the Spread than I can count, the spread eagle itself is high on a shelf above the bar, our son is a young man, my wonderful parents have passed away and we’ve moved back down south to the London area. We visit The Spread whenever we can – in fact we are meeting our cousins there on Sunday. Now owned and run by Vintage Inns, a few of the original dishes have stayed on the menu at The Spread, but our favourite lemon chicken has been gone for a number of years. I’ve made many attempts to duplicate it over the years and I’ve finally got it so that it tastes pretty much as we remember it.
The dish used to be served deep fried, with two chicken breasts, loads of thick British chips (French fries) and vegetables. In the spirit of healthy eating, I bake the chicken and only allow one chicken breast per person, but it absolutely has to be served with chips as far as my family are concerned. I think mashed potatoes might make a nice side, but I’m pretty sure I’d get in trouble if I tried serving them with it!
To serve four people you need:
4 boneless chicken breasts, without skin
¼ cup oil plus more for greasing the pan
juice and zest of 2 lemons
¼ tsp pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
pinch of salt
1 to 1½ cups matzo meal, breadcrumbs or Panko
(I almost always use matzo meal)
lemon slices, to serve
Mix the ¼ cup oil with the lemon juice and zest, pepper and parsley in a large dish or ziplock bag. Add the chicken to the marinade, cover or seal and put in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours or overnight.
When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400℉ or 200℃.
Beat the eggs in a medium bowl with a generous pinch of salt. Spread the matzo meal, breadcrumbs or Panko on a plate.
Generously grease a baking sheet with about 2 tablespoons of oil. I use a pastry brush to make sure it is evenly spread over the pan.
Drain the marinade off the chicken and discard. Dip each chicken breast first in egg and then in the breadcrumbs, and place them carefully on the baking sheet.
Bake for 35 to 40 mins until cooked through, turning only once halfway through cooking time. When the chicken is cooked there should be no pink remaining inside and a meat thermometer should give an internal temperature of at least 320℉ or 160℃.
Serve with lemon slices.