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I didn’t start cooking with lemons until just a couple of years ago. Back when I had regular access to cable (and with it, the Food Network), I would see all these chefs using lemons in a variety of exquisite ways. Its acidity, tartness, sourness, and a touch of sweet I think is what makes it such a versatile ingredient.

When I was a little girl, my parents and I went out for dinner quite frequently. Mostly Korean. There were always lemon wedges served alongside the dishes as a garnish, rarely ever in the food itself. Koreans don’t use lemons. I remember one distinct occasion when I decided to stick the entire lemon wedge in my mouth so as to have that lemony grin that most (smart) kids do with oranges. Instead, all I felt was a sharp sensation in my jaws as my eyes watered and my lips puckered. That left me with, shall I say, a sour taste in my mouth (heh!).

So lemons were never anything I considered as useful in the kitchen, until just a few years ago after I saw someone (probably Ina Garten) throw some in their cooking, I was intrigued and now I use it in everything. A couple of posts ago, I shared a pasta dish that’s accented with a splash of lemon and today, I’m going to take it one step further: a baked garlic lemon chicken and orzo dish. The lemon is not just an accent here, my friends. Oh no. It’s the star.

Baked Garlic Lemon Chicken and Orzo (serves 2)
Inspired by For the Love of Cooking
This can feel like quite a rich dish so I highly recommend adding the red peppers at the end or whatever other vegetables you have. The lemon and orzo is a perfect marriage of flavours. Make sure you use freshly squeezed lemon juice, otherwise, it’s just not the same.

1 tbsp. olive oil
4 chicken thighs
1 large red pepper, chopped (set aside)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup orzo
2 cups chicken broth
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry and season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken, skin side down, to the dutch oven once the oil is hot–almost smoking but not burning. Cook for about 3-4 minutes and then set aside. Turn down the heat to medium and add garlic, onion, oregano, and orzo. Stir for about 5 five minutes so that the onions are starting to sweat and the orzo is slightly toasted. Stir in the chicken broth, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Then place the chicken breasts (meat side down) back into the dutch oven so that the skin can further brown in the oven.

Cover and bake for about 20 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, stir in your chopped red peppers. Then remove the lid and bake for another 10 minutes.

Make sure to add the red peppers near the end, otherwise they’ll end up pretty mushy. Cherry tomatoes, asparagus, or peas would be a nice addition. You can also easily substitute chicken thighs with chicken breast. If you go this route, I suggest you chop the breasts into cubes and sear the sides. The original recipe was more Mediterranean, but I don’t like olives or feta cheese so I made this non-Mediterranean instead.