Mary Cooks: Chicken with Roasted Lemon, Green Olives and Capers

Experiences that engage multiple senses make solid and lasting memories. This is part of the reason why a certain smell or taste can evoke vivid childhood experiences. It's also part of why eating and family meals are so important. And, it's part of what led to Monday's dinner. As I was perusing recipes on , I came across this. Even though lemon + olives + capers = a very bitter sauce, the recipe reminded me so much of the food I had in Milan, I suffered a wave of nostalgia so strong that, against all reason, I decided this was the dish to make for dinner. So, without further ado, I present Monday's dinner:

Chicken with Roasted Lemons, Green Olives, and Capers

Mis en place

Roasted Lemons

12 thin lemon slices (from 2 lemons) -

I used a single lemon and got 8 thin slices

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange lemon slices in single layer on prepared sheet. Brush lemon slices with olive oil; sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast until slightly dry and beginning to brown around edges, about 25 minutes. (Lemons can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to container. Cover; chill.)

Roasted lemon slices


4 large skinless boneless chicken breast halves -

I used thighs and cut them into bite-sized pieces. After the unfortunate cashew chicken from last week, everything is in bite-sized pieces. If it looks the same, it cooks the same. Which means: for even cooking, make sure everything is cut the same size.

All purpose flour

5 tablespoons olive oil -

I used half for my meat and the other half for some veg

1/2 cup sliced pitted green Sicilian olives or other brine-cured green olives

2 tablespoons drained capers

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 4 pieces -

I totally left this out

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley -

I substituted cilantro

I also added a vegetable medley consisting of:

1/2 white onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeno, diced

1 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks

1 large clove garlic

Before you even start cooking, prep the veg. Then, on a separate cutting board, prep the meat. Remember that the veg to meat ratio should be about 5:2.

Still not enough veg, but an improvement over last week

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour to coat both sides; shake off excess.

I sprinkled salt, pepper, and flour on my chicken bites and tossed it all together to coat.

Heat 5 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add chicken and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Stir in olives and capers. Add stock and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of skillet. Boil until liquid is reduced to syrup consistency, turning chicken over after 3 minutes, about 5 minutes.

Reading this passage, it sounds like if you flour your meat and then add stock to it as it cooks, you will get meat simmering in a beautiful sauce. This is a blatant fallacy.

The sauce will separate as soon as you remove the heat. Which mine did

Magic sauce

While the chicken was cooking, I heated a separate pan for my veg. The onion, peppers and garlic will all cook at about the same speed. The zucchini cooks quicker, even in larger pieces, so I let everything else cook for about 7 minutes before I added it to the mix.

Note that the veg will cook down to about half the original volume

 I also started a pot of pasta.

Three pans on the stove top and something roasting in the oven - that's very chefy

Add butter, roasted lemon slices, and 2 tablespoons parsley; simmer until butter melts and chicken is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to platter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

OK, so I skipped the butter, but did add the roasted lemon and cilantro and let it simmer until the pasta cooked. The sauce separated and had to be reconstituted with a little cream and some additional stock. Gareth topped it off with a hard cheese.

The finished product. Even cheese can't save this dish.

Now, here's where I have to say that some recipes are just not good ideas. This might be one of them. While it was only marginally edible, Gareth could see the direction I was trying to go with this. There are several fundamental things wrong with this recipe that need to be addressed for any level of success:

  1. The lemons. Lemon zest and lemon juice are both very good things in a sauce. Actual lemon slices? Not so much. On his third bite, my counterpart got a lemon slice in his mouth and was unable to continue.
  2. The capers. They are pungent. They are vinegary. They are bitter. There are really only two dishes in which capers will really work: a bagel with lox, and pate. Both contain other strong flavors for which the caper is a counterpoint, and both contain a high volume of dairy. Unless you;re using a quart of cream, leave the capers out of it.
  3. The sauce. There is no magic sauce that thickens in the cooking process because the meat is coated with flour. This is really cooking code for "lazy-ass sauce". Whenever you see cooking instructions like this, just break out your medium sauce pan and make a roux like you're supposed to. 

So, Monday's dinner was not exactly a success. But it wasn't a complete failure, either. I learned a little more about food and cooking. Plus we both had a pretty good laugh.