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Lemon-pepper chicken

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  • Lemon-pepper chicken

    Right, so we'll start off recipes with something pretty simple, as in there are only really three ingredients:
    • chicken
    • lemon juice
    • pepper

    Now, I add a little butter for this, but that's up to you. Fats are not a problem for me and I like the richness, but plenty of people out there want to have less fat in their diet for whatever reason, usually to try to control cholesterol or whatever. So that's your choice.

    Remember that I said that this was all about cooking for one (me) and making stuff quickly and easily. Additionally, my doc wants me to have 5-6 small meals per day instead of 2-3 big ones; apparently this helps the liver do its thing. So, my portion sizes here are proportional to that. Scale this up as you see fit for your particular amount of hunger and/or however many people you're feeding. Obviously, one little chicken tenderloin is not going to feed a family of six, for example, but the ideas still remain the same no matter how large or small you need this to be.

    Now, because I want this to be something quick and easy, I have prepared a bunch of things in advance and put them into baggies to freeze them. This is very convenient for me as I just need to pull out the entrée and thaw it in order to cook it and have a meal prepared. This saves a lot of time on marinating and preparation, for example, and means that if you have an hour for lunch at home, then you can thaw stuff in 10-15 minutes and cook it in 10-15 minutes and still have plenty of time to relax and eat a hot, fresh meal instead of a burger at the drive-thru. Or, you can even start thawing in advance and just have to stick things in the oven when it's time for lunch with essentially no prep time (again assuming that you can manage to get home for lunch and/or you have a proper oven at your place of work, neither of which might be true in your circumstance, but there's a way around that discussed below).

    Now, on to the recipe at hand.

    • one 4-6 oz. chicken tenderloin
    • one oz. lemon juice
    • cracked black pepper to taste

    Rub or pat chicken flesh with pepper, ensuring that you get pepper into all of the smaller crevices of the chicken. Add lemon juice (many purists demand fresh-squeezed lemon juice; I find that the bottled stuff from the store works just fine). If you're freezing this for future use, put the peppered chicken into a ziploc bag and add lemon juice. If you're making this immediately, then just pour it over the chicken whilst in the cooking dish, but turn the chicken over a couple of times to ensure complete coverage. There will be leftover lemon juice, which you want.

    Pre-heat oven to 350° and cook chicken for about 12 minutes, depending upon size. Check for doneness and then serve over white rice, pouring the reserved lemon juice from the cooking dish on top.

    Here's where butter comes in for me: I'll put a pat of butter (pretty much just a half of a tablespoon slice off of a butter stick) on top of the chicken flesh to melt. Then, about five minutes into cooking, I'll pull out the dish and baste the chicken with the butter/lemon/pepper juice in the pan. Just a couple of spoonfuls from the corner will do quite nicely. Return the pan to the oven to keep cooking.

    How do you know when it's done cooking? Big question for all beginning cooks, and not really an easy answer. The USDA would tell you that you should have a meat thermometer in everything that you cook, and chicken, if I remember correctly, is supposed to reach an internal temperature of 165°F to be considered "properly cooked." Personally, I just don't really have time to futz around with a meat thermometer every time I make some chicken (or pork or beef or whatever). I do the "slice for white" method when I generally think chicken is ready. There are a couple of "tests" that I use beforehand, but basically I want the flesh to have a nice "rebound" when I push into it. That's just a matter of feel and can't really be taught other than through experience. The real test, though, is slicing it open. I'll cut into the thickest part of the chicken partially and if everything is white inside, then it's all good. You don't want any pink in there, indicating chicken blood that has not been heated enough. If needed, return the chicken to the oven/grill/frying pan that you were using for another minute or two, depending upon how you're cooking it and check it again later. Also, remember that meat continues to cook even after removed from heat. Whenever possible, you should let your meat "rest" for at least half of the time that it was on heat, so if you cooked a chicken for twelve minutes, it should rest for at least six minutes before you carve it. Now, this is not practical in all circumstances, so sometimes you just have to wing it a bit. Either way, in the case of chicken or turkey, "white is right:" no pink in the meat and the juices should run clear. Get there and you're done cooking.

    Now, a handy tip: technically speaking, if you just put the chicken into a dish with the lemon juice/pepper combination, it's considered braising rather than roasting. Nothing wrong with that in the least, and I love lots of braised stuff, but if I want the chicken roasted, I need to elevate it away from the liquid while cooking. Lots of different ways to do this, everything from a roasting pan for a big bird like a Thanksgiving turkey to a little cooling grate that one often uses for cookies. For me, in this case, I just use a couple of slices of lemon about a quarter of an inch thick. It's enough to elevate the meat flesh out of the liquid but the liquid is still there giving flavor as it cooks. Turn the meat a time or two during roasting so that the parts that are touching the lemon slices get an equal amount of roasting as everything else.
    It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
    In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
    Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
    Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now