When children are very young, their first experiences of playing with other children are actually playing next to other children. They don’t truly interact with one another, but for them, playing side-by-side is the beginning of their social lives. There’s a school of thought in cooking that mirrors this experience, the idea that putting ingredients next to one another actually achieves some meaningful interaction among them.
You know what I mean — recipes that include instructions like “lay sprigs of rosemary around the roast” or “place a whole peeled apple in the chicken cavity”… Or my favorite, recipes that instruct you to rub lamb chops, steaks, slices of baguette or anything with a cut clove of garlic. In my experience, this technique is a perfect way to waste a clove of garlic and five or so minutes of your life. It adds nothing to the flavor of anything, so far as I can tell. Ingredients have to fully commit to a dish and mix it up with the others to have an impact on the final taste.
So alarm bells should have been going off in my head when I read the Sticky Lemon Chicken recipe in Gordon Ramsay’s Fast Food. It called for putting sprigs of thyme, slices of lemon and a head of garlic cut in half into the pan along with the chicken. And for seasoning the chicken itself only with salt and pepper. But this was Gordon-bleeping-Ramsay, almost as famous for exquisite cooking as he is for his expletive-laced tirades at anyone unlucky enough to cross his path in the kitchen. I told myself it would be okay.
And it was okay, but only okay. For all the big aromas filling the kitchen, the finished chicken was only subtly flavored by the big-flavored ingredients. Still, those aromas told me that there was something there, that if I could get everything to, well, play together a little more instead of merely side-by-side, I would have something. For starters, I decided I would use some chopped garlic, rather than the impressive looking but ineffectual halved garlic head. Some lemon juice in addition to the slices, also pretty to look at but not much on imparting flavor. And finally, dried thyme instead of the sprigs—some of it sprinkled directly on the chicken before cooking and some more in the pan with the juices.
Next we went to the Internet, which turned up something very, very interesting. Marion found an actual video of Gordon Ramsay cooking this very same dish—only with significant differences from the recipe in his own book, both in technique and ingredients! A number of food sites commented on that fact, one blogger even postulating that some inept intern had taken less than perfect notes that made it into the book. Not sure I buy that, but the whole thing speaks to the perils of becoming an empire and not being able to control every aspect of your own work. I’ll include the video in the Kitchen Notes below, in case you’d like to see how Ramsay cooks his dish. Meanwhile, here’s how I cooked it.
Sticky Lemon Chicken
8 to 10 pieces of chicken [4 drumsticks and thighs or a whole chicken cut up]
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar [or red wine vinegar]
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 lemon, thickly sliced [into 6 or so slices]
1. Season chicken on both sides with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon of thyme. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high flame. Add oil and brown chicken until golden on both sides [in batches, if necessary], about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate and reduce heat to medium.
2. Sauté garlic until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add sherry vinegar and cook down until reduced by half. Add soy sauce, honey, remaining thyme, water and lemon juice to pan and stir to combine. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat with sauce. Add lemon slices. Cook until sauce has reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning chicken frequently to coat with sauce. Chicken should be done by that time; pierce a thick piece with a knife point to see that juices run clear.
3. Transfer chicken to serving platter or divide among 4 plates. Drizzle sauce over chicken and use lemon slices as garnish. Serve.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Grilled chicken with lemon sage butter