Caramelize Lemon (Yes, You Can) with That Speedy Chicken Dinner

April 18, 2018

All winter long, my weeknight chicken routine has been some variation of: get home, turn the oven on before taking off my coat, take the chicken out of the fridge, pull out my trusty sheet pan, and start prepping a one-pan dinner. Roast chicken is a favorite in my house, and after making this sheet pan chicken (and variations of it) over and over again, I can practically make dinner on auto-pilot. I’ll call the last six months the sheet-pan phase of my life.

So when I made this speedy chicken in my cast-iron skillet on the stovetop (with a pan sauce to boot), it felt downright revelatory—like a breath of fresh spring air.

Sometimes all it takes to shake up the dinner routine is returning to a preparation you haven’t used in ages, or combining favorite ingredients in a new way. That’s why I love cooking so much, and why it never gets old.

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The formula here is simple: rub quick-cooking chicken (I like to use boneless, skinless thighs) with a mix of Dijon mustard, olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and salt. Sizzle pancetta in your cast-iron skillet until crispy (when is dinner not good when started this way?) then set it aside. Brown the thighs on both sides in the pancetta drippings until cooked through, then set them aside. Toss in a big mound of thinly sliced shallots, and as they soften and release moisture, scrape up all of the beautiful fond from the mustardy chicken.

Marvel at your 20-minute dinner. Photo by Rocky Luten

Here’s where things get really fun: toss paper-thin slices of lemon with sugar, and brown them too, alongside the shallots, until they’re caramelized. Make a simple pan sauce from nothing more than chicken stock and water, stir in another dollop of Dijon and add Castelvetrano olives. Taste and get the seasoning and acidity just right. Marvel at your 20-minute endeavor.

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Top Comment:
“I used thighs, turbinado sugar, and regular, pitted, salad olives. Came out moist and tasty. Next time I will try the preserved lemon idea.”
— FrugalCat

By building and layering bold flavors all in the same skillet, this dinner beats many I’ve made that take triple the time (and result in triple the dishes to clean). I like to serve it over something that soaks up the delicious sauce: couscous, buttered egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or polenta. It fits for a frenzied Tuesday night as well as the longest, laid-back kind of dinner with friends.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.


FrugalCat April 25, 2018
I used thighs, turbinado sugar, and regular, pitted, salad olives. Came out moist and tasty. Next time I will try the preserved lemon idea.
Miachel P. April 20, 2018
Do you think the lemons would caramelize with maple syrup in place of sugar?
EmilyC April 20, 2018
Yes, that should work. With the mustard and olives, I'd probably lean more towards honey or brown sugar. Or you may prefer to just leave out the sugar/sweetener entirely--I've done it that way. I added the sugar because it boosts the caramelization, but the lemons will still brown without it. Hope this helps!
cynthia April 20, 2018
This sounds absolutely wonderful. I prepare a similar dish using preserved lemons.
EmilyC April 20, 2018
Thanks cynthia! I love preserved lemons...they’d be fantastic here.