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Chinese Lemon Chicken has crispy battered chicken pieces with a tangy sweet and sour lemon sauce. It’s a restaurant quality, better-than-take-out meal that’s ready in just 30 minutes!
This Crispy Chinese Lemon Chicken recipe is just like your favorite restaurant take-out, only better! It’s easy to make, tastes amazing and is sure to become a family favorite. Be sure to try some of our other favorite Asian-inspired recipes, like Crockpot Orange Chicken, Chicken Lo Mein, and Beef and Broccoli.
Crispy Lemon Chicken
Crispy Sweet and Sour Chinese Lemon Chicken is a popular order at regional Chinese restaurants in the US, Britain, and Canada. It has battered chunks of chicken breast pieces that are fried for a super crunchy coating. Then it gets tossed with a thick, sweet, and tangy lemon sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and green onions for a pretty finish.
It’s similar to orange chicken which has a sweet and spicy sauce. Instead of the heat, the lemon picks up the slack and provides a tangy flavor with every bite.
What is Chinese Lemon Chicken Made of?
For the Chinese Lemon Chicken, here’s what you need:
- Chicken: I use boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized pieces). You could also use boneless thighs or chicken tenders.
- Batter: eggs, cornstarch, flour, salt and pepper. The flour and cornstarch mixture get crispy when it’s fried, and creates a fluffy, crunchy coating.
- Oil for frying: Canola or vegetable oil are highly recommended. You need an oil with a high smoke point that is also mostly flavorless.
How to Make Chinese Lemon Chicken
* Be sure to see the recipe card below for the
complete list of ingredients and full instructions *
Don’t let the frying component scare you – this recipe is actually very easy to make.
Batter the chicken. Dip the chicken in the flour/cornstarch mixture, then the egg, then in the flour mixture again. Shake off excess with each dip, and set completely coated pieces on a wire rack while you continue battering all of the chicken.
Frying. While you’re battering the chicken heat up the oil in a large, deep pot. If you have a deep fry thermometer, it should read 350 degrees. A dutch oven works great, or a deep cast iron skillet. Frying can get messy, so the deeper the pot or skillet, the better.
Fry in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan. If the chicken pieces are touching, they’re too close together and won’t get crispy. Arrange fried chicken pieces on a wire rack over a paper towel lined baking sheet to drain off the grease.
The Lemon Sauce
The lemon sauce is simple to make with just a few ingredients. Despite the added sugar, this is a really tangy sauce that will make your mouth pucker!
- Chicken stock or broth – This ties into the flavor of the chicken and acts as the base of your sauce.
- Fresh lemon juice and lemon zest – Fresh is best whenever possible. I always grab a few lemons at the store whenever I go, whether I need them or not.
- Granulated sugar – The sweet part of your sweet and sour lemon sauce.
- Red pepper flakes – Adds a little heat to play with the sweet and tangy.
- Cornstarch and water – This is added to the sauce to thicken it. When you mix cornstarch and water together it’s called a slurry and it’s used to thicken sauces and gravies.
- Garnish – Sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions are optional for garnish.
The first 5 ingredients are simmered together for a bit and then the slurry is added to thicken the sauce. The finished sauce is poured over the crispy chicken and tossed so it’s all coated in that tangy, sticky sauce.
Storage and Reheating
Storage: If you have leftover Chinese Lemon Chicken, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. I don’t recommend freezing the chicken in the lemon sauce but if you anticipate leftovers, leave some of the crispy chicken unsauced. You can freeze on a baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag for 3-4 months. The sauce can also be frozen in a freezer container for 3-4 months.
Reheating: Keep in mind that fried chicken in sauce will lose it’s crunch as it cools. Reheating in a 350 degree oven will help you get some of that crispiness back, but it might still end up a little soggy. If you save some chicken and sauce and froze it separately, you can reheat the frozen chicken in the oven and the thawed sauce on the stovetop.
Tips and Tricks
- Make this a healthier dish by skipping the breading and frying. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and saute over high heat until no long pink. Then toss with the lemon sauce.
- This recipe also works with larger pieces of chicken, like cutlets or tenders. Bread and fry, then serve with the lemon sauce.
- You can even make the lemon sauce to go with precooked chicken nuggets!
- Control the sweetness and heat by adjust the sugar and red pepper flakes.
How to Serve Chinese Lemon Chicken
A typical meal at our house will include Chinese Lemon Chicken, steamed rice, and Oven Roasted Broccoli or Asparagus. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy I’ll go the Chinese take-out route and make a combo plate with Fried Rice and Chow Mein.
More Asian Inspired Recipes You’ll Love
- Honey Lemon Chicken and Green Beans Stir Fry
- Egg Fried Rice
- Hibachi Chicken & Vegetables
- Ground Turkey Teriyaki Rice Bowl
- Air Fryer Cream Cheese Wontons
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Chinese Lemon Chicken
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized pieces)
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- oil for frying
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- ¾ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons water
- sesame seeds optional for garnish
- thinly sliced green onions optional for garnish
- In a shallow dish, stir together 2 large eggs with salt and pepper.
- In another shallow dish, like a pie plate, whisk together the flour, ⅓ cup of cornstarch, salt and pepper.
- Dip each piece of chicken into the flour mixture until fully coated, then carefully dip into the egg mixture allowing the excess to drip off. Dip the chicken back into the flour, until completely coated. Set on the wire rack and repeat the process with all of the chicken.
- Add 3-inches of oil to a deep, heavy bottomed pot and heat over medium heat to 350 degrees. The food should sizzle when it hits the oil. Add 7-8 pieces of chicken to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes or until crispy and golden. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer chicken to the wire rack to drain and cool. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Meanwhile, add chicken stock, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and red pepper flakes to a small saucepan and simmer. In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and water and pour into the lemon sauce to thicken.
- Once the sauce is thickened, toss the chicken in the lemon sauce. Stir in the lemon zest. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and sliced green onions and serve.