Lemons were introduced into China hundreds of years ago, probably from Persia. Like all citrus fruits, the lemon was deemed to possess magical and spiritual qualities in addition to its most pleasant sweet–sour tang. Lemon works well as a flavouring with many foods.
I do not recall my mother ever making this popular dish, but I know it was an occasional item in my school cafeteria. It was frequently ordered in our restaurant, almost always by non-Chinese.
Here I offer two versions of the recipe. The first is more authentically Chinese, the chicken being velveted (that is, coated with egg white and delicately cooked in warm oil); the second is the more familiar Western ‘take-away’ version, with the pieces of chicken coated in a batter, then tossed in a lemon sauce.
© 1998 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.