Lemon Pepper Garlic Chicken and a Cautionary Tale or Two

TRIGGER WARNING: Somehow along the way this recipe started sounding lewd and went downhill, like when you say “That’s what she said” after every step. Say it to yourself at the appropriate times. Contains childish adult themes and language. Bonus spin-off recipe for Mushroom Chicken and Rice.

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Image: Apartment Therapy
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Image: Trader Joe’s

I haven’t had coffee yet, so deal with the giant image, homies. Trader Joe likes to make sure you can really see what they sell; I copied this image with no shame. I don’t think they will mind. Peppercorns; lemon rind; lemon oil; onion; garlic; sea salt and citric acid. No alum salt.

Let me start by saying the prep time is TEN MINUTES. Really.

This one is for you Millenials and Zees that work two jobs but still can’t afford to go out to dinner, or for beginners or hate-to-cook crowd. You real home chefs can mock me while you spend four hours making a meal -this recipe is not for you. I’ve already moved on. The leftovers make great sandwiches.

Follow these instructions and you can’t go wrong. (That’s what she said). If you want to seem like a chef and eat something fucking delicious, read on.

First off, let’s talk about most commercial lemon pepper spice mixes, which have alum salt added so they stay dry enough to shake out of the container. If it is clumpy, toss it. Also, don’t buy it. Use Trader Joe’s. No, they did not pay me for this endorsement. But they should.

When most lemon pepper spices get old they will taste like aluminum. That is the “alum salt” part. Trader Joe’s makes a lemon pepper grinder with real lemon peel and peppercorns. A little salt, no alum. It runs under $3, and has a lovely fresh taste. Buy two at once, you will use this lots for chicken and fish.

For instance, if you want to roast a lemon pepper chicken that turns out tender and moist with lovely, crispy brown skin on top; with a peppery, lemony, mouth-watering flavor that translates to sandwiches made with the leftovers nicely. The best part? With experience, you can prep this in just 10 minutes, really. (Waiting for the chicken to get not-cold does not count as prep time).

Waiting for it to roast also does not count as “working my ass off in the kitchen,” but you can milk it during an argument over the division of household chores. I’ll vouch for you.

Turn the oven on to 350 F. Your chicken will roast on your middle rack, or lowerish, not bottom, so make sure the racks are in place before your oven gets hot.

Start with fresh or thawed whole chicken, left out till it gets close to room temperature. Take your frozen whole chicken out early in the morning, remove the plastic shrink wrap, then put it in a big bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap or foil. It should be the right temperature when it is time to start dinner, assuming your place is not insanely hot. If you are working from home, take the “guts” out (if they are inside) around 2 PM for a five or six o’clock start time. For fresh chicken, an hour-ish to get to room temperature should do, depending on the size. Cold poultry will “seize” in a hot oven and the breast will end stringy and a bit tough.

If your chicken has those nasty guts wrapped in a paper bag inside, toss them. That chicken did not have a healthy heart or liver, I promise you. And I am not sure what a “gizzard” is, but I am pretty sure it is the part of the chicken that gets stuck in your “craw”-whatever that is.

Use a roasting pan with a lid. It turns out just the same whether you got it at Goodwill or whether you got it from William Sonoma. Chickens are not snobs that way. If you get the cheap, black-speckled kind, you don’t even need to scrub it that well, because the baked-on stuff doesn’t show. Take that, stainless steel!

Ingredients: Chicken, bagged baby carrots, potatoes, onion, fresh garlic and the aforementioned TJ’s lemon pepper grinder. Maybe fresh thyme.

OK, here we go. Pat your chicken really dry, inside and out.

Smoosh 3 or 4 cloves of garlic with the flat of your knife blade, not smashed flat, but enough to release the oils and make the paper skin easy to remove. Cut off the root top.

Slice the peeled garlic cloves thin, then tuck those slices under the breast and thigh skin.

After you tuck the garlic slices in, rub the inside of your chicken with unsalted butter. Leave butter out so it is soft; if you didn’t, melt/soften about a half stick in the microwave and rub or brush some inside, generously. (Cover your butter with something, it almost always pops and splatters -10 seconds should be about right.) And yes, use olive oil if you must. It is better for you and some prefer the taste, so whatevs. You do you.

Prop Ms. Chicken up so you can grind lots of lemon pepper inside. Then grind lots of lemon pepper inside. The best advice I ever got about seasoning chicken is to “season it until it sneezes.” Black Cooking Advice Matters!

Add another clove or two of really smushed garlic (with paper removed, of course) just any old where inside. If you like thyme, add a couple sprigs inside, more for “fragrance” than anything. But beware -fresh thyme can easily get bitter, like your second spouse -mostly mellow but with a bitter streak that can surprise you, so be careful.

Lay the chicken back down in the roasting pan, breast side down, rub the bottom side with butter, then grind lots of lemon pepper over it. Then turn it breast side up, rub butter over the top, grind more lemon pepper over the breast and legs.

You can butter or oil the chicken all at once, but if you cook with wine, like I do, (the wine is for the cook, silly) then an entire buttered chicken can get away from you pretty quickly, taking on a life of its own, and you end up worse than the lobster scene in Annie Hall -ass in the air, kneeling on the floor, chasing a slippery, naked chicken around on the floor, immortalized on YouTube with your partner laughing at you as the soundtrack.

If you have never called a slippery chicken a “fuckin’ motherfucker,” then you buttered it in stages, correctly.

Now, pour an inch or so of chicken stock or water carefully into the pan; don’t wash the seasoning off, bonehead.

Wash a few potatoes, cut in half or quarters or buy the bitty ones, then space them around Ms. Chicken. If you want to impress, buy colored baby potatoes and carrots. For me, I love the litte Jonagolds, but they are hard to find, so go for the thin-skinned potatoes like the Yukon Golds if you have a choice.

Open a bag of baby carrots, add some between potatoes. If you love onions, hack one large onion in half, slice tops and bottoms off, remove the paper and first layer of onion, then quarter them and place in between potatoes and carrots (or, in the case of shallots, peel and place, but shallots are not my first choice for this dish; like your ex, they get a bit competitive). Tuck them in the pan, around, not on top of Ms. Chicken. I recommend sweeter yellow onions, not the white onions, which can overpower your dish. If you have any room left, consider a couple thick hunks of sweet potato, hard orange squash, or turnips. (Note: Don’t even think about peeling any of the veggies -the fiber and vitamins are in those peels).

Sing a verse of Scarborough Fair while you do this -but don’t add parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to this chicken just because you are singing about it. It’s lemon pepper chicken, remember? Or play some old school hip-hop, but not the news. Cooking should be a Zen experience, even if your actual cooking prep is ten minutes. (You are allowed to listen to Nelly’s Hot In Here, but you must acknowlege what he did. That is per SNL’s Pete Davidson, and I think that is decent advice.)

Lots of lemon pepper on these veggies, smoosh a couple more garlic cloves, drop them around the veggies.

Put the lid on the roasting pan, then put the pan in the oven.

Try not to forget to put the pan in the oven. If you forgot, you drank too much wine or smoked too much weed, and you better knock it off while it cooks. If you got to the putting-it-in-the-oven part, you are fine. The oven may not have reached 350 degrees yet, but no worries, just put it in (that’s what…).

Check your cell phone to see if you made the prep in the ten-minute time I promised. If you did, put your hands up and do a victory dance. You can now tell Alexa to remind you to check the chicken in 50 minutes, or an hour (plus or minus ten minutes) if it is a larger chicken. Watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix or Amazon and have another glass of wine, or take that time to “do it” with your partner, garlicky hands and all.

Your chicken will come out brown and moist without basting. It’s done when the leg joint is very loose. Like so loose you could conceivably twist the bone out with your hand if it wasn’t so hot. Don’t insult Ms. Chicken by poking her with a thermometer and letting out the juices (That’s what she…)

Your bigger chickens, (like six pounds) can take up to 90 minutes, three to four pounds, 50 to 65 minutes. I guess. I go by the smell and pulling the leg outward. If you see red inside or get resistance, it’s not ready.

Veggies should be fork-tender.

DO NOT baste or brush butter on her when she is done, it will make the crispy skin soggy; don’t bother her by uncovering her while she’s doing her thing for at least 50 minutes; you will wreck the crisping skin process, which is the orgasm of roast chicken. You ratfink.

If it is not brown by now, remove the lid and let the skin brown some more.

Let her sit 10 minutes after she is done (that’s what…). You can fish the veggies out with a slotted spoon if you can’t resist messing with her, but it’s better just to own up to what you are really after- the first bite of the crispy skin with salt on it. Be nice and only take a little.

Leave the veggies in so they don’t get cold.

Once you serve, let your guests, family, or partner add salt to their own taste, and more pepper if they like. I don’t salt my chickens during cooking; the salt draws out the moisture. Salt brining is a whole different thing.

I like a spoonful of plain whole yogurt on my veggies, and I could do a whole column on Stonyfield plain whole yogurt, but that’s just me, plus they should pay me for my endorsement along with TJ’s. Sour cream, pan juice, salt and pepper, or nothing. Who makes gravy any more?

When you are done eating, pour the pan liquid into a pyrex measuring cup (two-cup size should do); “float” plastic wrap on the surface, place in fridge. When the chicken fat hardens overnight it will cling to the plastic, which you can lift off and toss.

You should have nearly two cups of (almost) fat-free stock.

I usually put that same pyrex cup in the microwave the next day, and selfishly drink my homemade “soup,” not sharing it at all, with anyone. I figure, to hell with everyone else, let them make soup from the bones. After all, I was the one who worked my ass off in the kitchen (wink wink).

But of course that stock and leftover chicken, if any, can be recycled for Chicken and Mushroom Rice the next day. A comfy, easy, creamy chicken and rice recipe starts with making rice. I love Jasmine rice and pretty much never use anything else, but use what you have. Basmati may be a better choice, but look in your cupboards. And why did I never know before how handy a rice cooker is? While it is cooking, which takes maybe 15–20 minutes (unless you are making a lot), begin making a mushroom and chicken sauce. Take this recipe slow and easy. Still a beginner recipe, don’t be skeert.

While the rice is cooking, saute’ sliced mushrooms (as many as you like, and I like a lot, like two cups for two people, but adjust accordingly) plus onions in butter, using a deep aluminum frying pan on (not cast iron) on medium-low to low. I use a whole yellow onion, a Walla Walla Sweet if I can get it. Turn the heat down a bit, add minced garlic. Don’t scorch the garlic. The heat should be medium to low. If you scorch it, toss the mess, wash your pan and start over.

Saute’ the onions until they are very limp -the mushrooms will hold up to a long cook. For the onions, slice medium width, cut slices in half, put them in the pan and stir till they separate. Don’t dice them. Then add mushrooms.

Add an inch or so of chicken stock and heat mixture. Using a shallow ladle or big spoon, scoop some hot stock into a cup. Tap two level teaspoons of cornstarch into the stock, and mix well with a fork. If it is lumpy, strain it into the pan, but it should be fine. Add it to the pan, stirring gently with a wooden paddle (a wooden spoon with a flat end). Add more stock, about an inch, simmer gently. Pull or chop leftover chicken into the mix. Don’t use skin, stringy or mealy parts. Don’t overload with chicken -the mushrooms are the star in this dish. Salt and pepper to taste, but taste. You can put salt in, but you can’t take it out.

Continue to cook the mixture down at a slow simmer, stirring gently until it is about the consistency of mushroom soup. If you love mushrooms, use mushroom powder to enhance the taste, but sparingly (Trader Joe’s makes a nice mushroom umami, but it has salt, so be careful). If it doesn’t seem to be getting thick, take it off the heat, stir gently to cool. It should thicken. If not, repeat the hot liquid/cornstarch mix, only use one more teaspoon, not two. Stir on low heat, it will thicken when it cools.

It takes a while to cook down, and the rice will finish first. Leave it on warm in the rice cooker.

I sometimes add a half or 3/4 of a cup of frozen baby peas into the sauce toward the end, and heat long enough to cook them, like 3-4 minutes, which retains the bright green color. Taste a pea. It should be warm and “burst” when you bite it. NO canned peas! I will hunt you down and KILL you!

Scoop your finished rice into a bowl and ladle your mushroom mixture over it. Serve and enjoy.

**If you don’t give a crap about carbs, serve with toasted garlic rye or sourdough or french bread. Personally, I like the stronger counterpoint of rye with the mellower mushroom rice mix.

You could use canned mushroom soup for this, just don’t tell me if you do. I will want to hunt you down and kill you, but I am too lazy to enforce this rule. To me, canned mushroom soup is a mess of salty chemicals made thicker with chemicals and….blech.

A scratch mushroom sauce is so easy and so much better, especially when you use your own stock. That lemon pepper stock should add just the right note of acidity. Use a sweeter onion, like a yellow or Walla Walla onion, and cook these slowly with your sliced mushrooms, brown or white. Yes, go ahead and get the pre-sliced, even the ones on sale if you are going to make it today or tomorrow, or even Wednesday. Those on-sale slices, at least in my mind, are more flavorful.

Slowly and gently, take your time, taste as you go (that’s what she said).

If you love this sauce, try it again, only over crispy oven-baked chicken thighs. You can get fancier and start the sauce on a higher heat with two or three ounces of white wine, then back the heat down to medium low. But be sure and cook off the alcohol before adding stock.


If you have never seen Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, because you are not a million years old, watch the whole movie instead of Netflix tonight.

Writer, journalist. Commentary: Economist, Huff Post, Daily Beast, New York Times, Seattle Times, Crosscut, The Stranger. 2.77 million Quora.

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