I love chicken piccata. It’s tart, tangy, slightly briny and just a little buttery. It’s a fabulous match for chicken, fish, pork or veal. When I have no idea what to have for dinner, I can usually scrounge up the ingredients to make some variation of piccata. So when I saw this recipe for Meyer Lemon Chicken Piccata in an old issue of Cooking Light magazine, I ripped it out without a second thought.
Two things made it a little different than the other piccata recipes that I use. For one, it didn’t contain butter. I am a big fan of buttering out a sauce, so this part made me
hesitate slightly stop in my tracks. I understand it’s supposed to be healthy but a small bit of butter just seems necessary to me when making a sauce. But even though that might have made me rethink things, the fact that it called for Meyer lemons instead of just regular ones, hooked me. I was intrigued enough to give it a shot.
Meyer lemons, thought to be a cross of a regular lemon and a mandarin, are something I enjoy experimenting with in the kitchen. And although I love the sourness of lemons, the sweetness and floral notes that come with Meyer lemons make them fun in their own way. Plus their thin skin makes them perfect for juicing.
I was hoping I had some orzo (which I love serving with piccata) hanging out in my pantry, but I couldn’t find any stashed away. However, I did have half of a bag of cavatappi so I figured I’d give that a shot. In hindsight, I think piccata works slightly better with smaller pastas or even just a grain, maybe some rice or farro, to soak up the goodness. This certainly wasn’t the best application for this particular noodle, but it still came together to make a pretty delicious dinner.
I started by blanching some asparagus, cut into two-inches pieces. The day before I had royally overcooked some asparagus, to the point where I actually threw it away, so this time I watched it like a hawk. I tend to be a bit obsessive with my vegetables.
Once the noodle were al dente, they were drained and then tossed with some raw spinach, just to give it a quick wilt. I threw in a little red chili flake to add some excitement. Because no one likes dull greens — bland is almost as bad as overcooked. I put the noodles back in the pot with the asparagus and added a generous splash of chicken stock and butter to the mix, keeping it on very low heat while I finished things up.
Next up was the chicken. I didn’t bother to pound the breasts because they were already pretty thin, but I did follow the rest of the instructions and gave them a quick dredge in flour. Then I seared them until they were just golden brown and cooked through.
Finally, it was on to the sauce — the part I was most curious about.
It was pretty basic — just chicken stock, white wine and Meyer lemon juice, finished, of course, piccata style with capers and parsley. I tried, I really did, to make it without adding butter. And even though the tartness wasn’t an issue, the sauce just felt lacking to me. It was thin and in desperate need of…well, fat. So I threw in a small nubbin of butter. And then a second one.
And I felt good about it.
I will say, especially since Cooking Light can be either hit or miss, this was happily a hit. Sure, it wasn’t shockingly innovative, but the Meyer lemon juice did give an old classic a nice twist. I’d like to try it again with a more cooperative noodle, but it made a satisfying dinner in less than half an hour, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Plus, it gave me some inspiration. I tend to reserve Meyer lemons to use in recipes that specifically call for them, like maybe in a Meyer lemon curd or in a cocktail, figuring these are the dishes that will make them shine the most. Since they are seasonal (and comparatively more expensive), I don’t usually just substitute them in dishes that don’t require them. But it’s nice to remember that using them instead of regular lemons when cooking a stand-by, “nothing special” recipe can give a favorite dish a bright new flavor.