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

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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.

Sheet Pan Chicken With Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Parmesan
Sheet Pan Chicken With Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Parmesan

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.

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.
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.

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.

Skillet Chicken with Pancetta, Torn Olives & Caramelized Lemons

Skillet Chicken with Pancetta, Torn Olives & Caramelized Lemons

EmilyC EmilyC
Serves 4
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, thin slices or coarsely chopped
  • 2 small lemons (Meyer or regular)--one for slicing, one for juicing
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 large (or 2 small) shallot, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and torn into irregular pieces
  • Large handful of coarsely chopped dill or parsley
Go to Recipe
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Lemon, Dinner, Faster