Have you ever heard of Rao’s Famous Lemon Chicken? I hadn’t either, but I stumbled on it recently on the internets and was intrigued. For one thing, the chicken is broiled. Completely. That’s different. Also, it finishes cooking in quite a lot of olive oil and lemon juice. That’s different, too.
This lemon chicken thighs recipe is not your ordinary lemon chicken, but sometimes different is a really good thing!!
I was inspired to try it, but as is sometimes the case, I veered from the original a bit. I used bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs, instead of a butterflied whole chicken. I used thyme instead of oregano. I messed with the sauce a bit, too. Now you might be asking, if it’s “famous lemon chicken” why on earth would you mess with it? Good point! You see, I had read differing accounts from people who had made it on the ideal ratio of lemon juice to olive oil to use and well … I just made a judgement call, based on how I thought we’d like it best. And we did like it, so all good :)
There are a couple of points about this recipe to note. First, it is going to make a bit of a mess in your oven. Not the kind of mess that will mean you have to immediately run the cleaning cycle. It’s the kind of mess where you’ll get a little smoke, while it’s cooking and probably the next time you turn your oven on. Be sure to run your range fan while cooking it! Finally, you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t enjoy this dish with the nicest, freshest, crustiest bread you can get your hands on. Tearing off a piece and dipping it in the sauce is a pleasure not to be missed!!
- 8 bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs
- Olive oil, for brushing
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Lemon Sauce:
- 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6-7 medium lemons)
- 2/3 cup good olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. red or white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. chopped garlic (not too fine)
- 3/4 tsp. dried oregano or dried thyme (I used a tablespoon or so of fresh thyme leaves, as I had some on hand)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper (Not just a pinch. Be somewhat generous here.)
- To serve:
- Juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
- With oven rack in the 2nd position from the top, preheat oven broiler for at least 15 minutes.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place chicken thighs skin side up. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Turn thighs over (skin side down) and brush this side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place into oven for about 10 minutes. (Watch closely! If you feel like it's going to really scorch, move the rack down one more level).
- Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon sauce ingredients. Set aside.
- Remove from oven after 10 minutes, flip chicken over and broil for another 10-12 minutes. It should be lovely and golden, with a few charred spots. It doesn't need to be completely cooked, as it will be going back in the oven again. Leave broiler on, but move rack down to the 3rd from the top position (if you aren't there already).
- Move chicken to an oven-proof dish, with sides an inch or two high. Place chicken skin side down into dish and pour lemon sauce over-top. Return to oven and broil for a further 2-3 minutes. Flip chicken over (now skin side up) and broil for a final 2-3 minutes, or until sauce is heated (bubbling).
- Sprinkle with parsley and squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon over top (*Taste first! It may be lemony enough for you, in which case, don't add).
- To serve: Serve in a shallow bowl type dish, to contain the sauce. Place a thigh or two in the bowl and spoon some of the sauce over-top. The sauce will pool at the bottom and is perfect for bread dipping! Serve with some roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice or just a side green vegetable (spinach would be nice!).
I don’t like olives and hence, I don’t love strong-tasting olive oil. I used light-tasting olive oil for my dish. If you use regular olive oil, you may need to adjust the lemon juice amount to balance the stronger taste of the olive oil. I am also tempted to try this with a bit of butter – maybe replacing about 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil with melted butter.
You can make this ahead! Once cooked, simply refrigerate the sauce and chicken separately. When ready to eat, return both the sauce and the chicken to a pan and re-heat in a 350° F. oven until sauce bubbles.
Left-overs are great! Take any left-over chicken off the bone and use for sandwiches or salads. They are wonderfully moist, with a lovely lemon flavour.
I think I touched on this above, but I’d suggest that you don’t wander far when this is cooking. Keep an eye on the it to avoid scorching and adjust broiler setting or oven rack position, as needed.
Taste before adding more lemon at the end. A bit of fresh lemon juice is nice to finish, but if it’s already lemony enough for you, it’s not necessary.
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