A treasured meal from my childhood: Greek Lemon Chicken

There are some recipes that every time you eat them it brings back memories and travels you back to another place or another time. This recipe is one of them. It is meat and potatoes, the quintessential combination of carbs, proteins, and fat. As a kid my family and I, will spend our summers in Ierapetra, Crete, the southmost city of Europe. Me, my sister and my two cousins will go to the beach every morning meet more kids to play and have fun. Tired and hungry, we will walk back home. As we approached the house with the sea salt still on us, the smell of the sizzling in the oven chicken and the aroma of the lemons, will signal lunch time. Next to a greek salad with red ripped tomatoes, this meal will just become the essence of my summers, the essence of my childhood. Greek lemon chicken is the most recognizable meal in Greece. It works perfectly in its simplicity and the ingredients balance is phenomenal.

Over the years, I tried to tinker with the recipe… add more aromatics, garlic, onion, chili peppers, more variety of spices, butter, and many more. None of these things made it better or even the same. So I fall back to the original recipe. It is a dish that works perfect in its simplicity. The main ingredients are chicken and potatoes. The magic ingredient is the lemon. Lemons contain some sugar. Some varieties more than others, but typical they have about 3% by weight sugar. Sugars help caramelize the potatoes and they are a key player in a variety of biochemical reactions that are called Maillard reactions. Sugars and amino acids (the protein building blocks) combine and give rise to more complex chemicals that are responsible for the unit taste of roasted meat. You can obviously add sugar, but with the potatoes and the meat it will be too bland. The lemon brings on it’s acidity. Wakes up the flavors and creates a perfect dish. The rule of thumb I follow is one average sized lemon per pound of potatoes and meat. 

A very common method is to add the whole lemon cups (the lemon halves after you juice the lemons) in the roasting pan. I think that brings some bitterness to the dish and I am not a fan. Instead I use the zest, that carries all the aroma and none of the bitterness. But by all means try it and see what you like better. 

Here is the video!

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Greek lemon Chicken


  • Author: Georgios Pyrgiotakis
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 90 mins
  • Total Time: 110
  • Yield: 12
  • Category: meat, summer food
  • Method: Roasted
  • Cuisine: Greek

Description

One of the greatest greek dishes! It is simple and unexpectedly delicious.


Ingredients

  • 3 lbs of potatoes
  • 3 lbs chicken thighs or a whole chicken cut in segments
  • Juice of 6 lemons
  • Zest of 6 lemons
  • 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • 4 tbsp Dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp black pepper 
  • 4 tbsp salt (or to taste)
  • Optional: 1 tbsp smoked paprika

Instructions

  1. Peel and cut the tomatoes
  2. In a large mixing bowl add the potatoes pieces, and add the juice of three lemons and their zest. 
  3. Add the 1 tbsp of black pepper, 2 tbsp of oregano, 2 tbsp salt and 1/2 smoked paprika. 
  4. Add 1/3 cup olive oil.
  5. Toss really well, so all the potatoes are coated with the seasonings, the lemon, and the oil. 
  6. Add them in a baking pan.
  7. Repeat the same exact process with the meat. If you want to change the ratio of the meat to potatoes you can accordingly adjust the seasonings as well.
  8. Nest the chicken in between the potatoes. Add water to cover the potatoes almost to the top and bake at 375 for about 1 1/2 hours or, until the water has almost evaporated by at least 2/3 and the chicken is golden brown. 
  9. Serve with some fresh oregano and basting the chicken with some of the olive oil from the pan.  

Notes

The main engine of the recipe is a lemon per pound of potatoes or meat. Salt and pepper is to taste. Smoked paprika complete optional. Plenty of oregano mandatory. 

Nutrition

  • Calories: 398
  • Sugar: 1.9
  • Sodium: 1268
  • Fat: 19.9
  • Saturated Fat: 4
  • Unsaturated Fat: 15.9
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 19.8
  • Fiber: 3.7
  • Protein: 35
  • Cholesterol: 101

Keywords: chicken, lemon, oregano, potatoes

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Last modified: June 20, 2021 by Georgios Pyrgiotakis