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Apr 2, 2013
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Wine With...Lemon Chicken

There’s no reason why this favorite American weeknight supper dish can’t be tweaked into a slightly more complex main course worthy of being served at an informal dinner party. incorporating a little white wine, soy sauce and
lemon peel into the basic recipe intensifies flavors and broadens the choice of wines to serve with it. Almost any side dish would be good with this lemon chicken. In this instance we cooked some plain white rice garnished with a little chopped spinach. It was a pretty side dish, whose neutral flavors didn’t compete with the bold chicken and lemon mélange. Most importantly, it was just the right texture for soaking up the delicious pan juices.

Lemon Chicken

Serves 4

We used skinless, boneless chicken thighs, but you could substitute breasts or legs, or a combination, with or without skin and bones.

3 tablespoons olive oil (mixed use)
4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely grated or shredded lemon peel
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or Aleppo pepper, or to taste
8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2-3 lemons
1 cup white wine
1/3 cup minced pancetta

Coat the bottom of a large baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Mix together the garlic, lemon peel, soy sauce and pepper. Place the chicken in a sturdy plastic bag or in a bowl and coat the pieces thoroughly on all sides with the garlic mixture. Ideally, refrigerate the chicken and let rest for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°.
Cut the unpeeled lemons into very thin slices (discarding all seeds). Arrange the slices in a single layer to cover the bottom of the oiled baking dish. Place the chicken pieces in a single layer on top of the lemon slices. Drizzle the wine over the chicken and sprinkle the minced pancetta over the top. Cover the dish and bake it for 15 minutes, then remove the cover and continue baking, basting once or twice with the pan juices, for another 15 minutes or so, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through.

* * *

Our tasting showed that this is more a white (or pink) wine dish than a red one, though one red wine that we tried, a juicy California Pinot Noir, fared quite well. The bright citrus character of the lemony chicken (and you definitely can taste lemon in every bite) needs an equally vibrant wine to partner with it. But which type or types of wine work best? We had guessed that light-bodied, crisp whites would be a natural fit, but it turned out that the wines which performed best were those with a bit more heft or muscle. Perhaps it’s the pancetta, the spicy pepper, or the soy sauce, but the dish needs a somewhat forceful wine partner, one that can strut its stuff proudly and never be overwhelmed by the food.


Approx. Price


Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes (New York) Rosé 2012


Made with Lemberger grapes, this is a fruity, berry-rich rosé. It does not offer echoes of dried herbs or lavender, as classic southern French examples are apt to do, but instead entices with its direct, fruit-forward character. As a result, it complements rather than clashes with this dish.

MacMurray Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (California) Pinot Noir 2010


The one red wine we are recommending, this Pinot is lush on the palate. It tastes of fresh cherries and strawberries, but has sufficient acidity to refrain from turning flabby or taste excessively sweet. If you’re a red wine lover, a New World Pinot fashioned in this balanced style will make your lemon chicken especially tasty.

The Ned, Walhopai River, Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2011

(Imported by Pelican Brands)


Tasting of ripe pears, with citrus hints in the background, and a steely finish, this vibrant but substantial white made for a stellar match. It added new flavor elements to the match while at the same time echoing the juicy lemons that give the chicken so much character.

Talbott. Monterey (California) “Kali Hart” Chardonnay 2011


Definitely showing the influence of oak aging, this wine nonetheless tastes lively, with plenty of acidity to make it seem refreshing. It has just the right texture and weight to marry well with lemon chicken.

Zuani, Collio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Italy) “Vigne Bianco” 2009

(Imported by Martin Scott Wines)


A blend of Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, this mineral-tinged wine tastes surprisingly fresh and vivacious despite being almost four years old. Age, along with blending, may have given it an extra layer of complexity, for it offers multiple aromas and flavors that extend into a dry but long and evolving finish. That complexity enabled it to echo virtually all the different elements in the dish, making for a seamless wine and food pairing experience.