Remember “lemon chicken” from the takeout American style Chinese place when we were kids? It was so unexpected, sweet and sour, dense and light at the same time. Remember trying it again when we were older, expecting some of that surprise and amusement again, but instead finding a heavy, gloppy starch bomb with more of the bitter than the sour from the lemons, and more of the cloying than balance from the sweetener?

 

This is not that. This is what we wish that had been all along.

 

lemons, spices, a bowl of broth, a bowl of almonds, skin removed, a pile of peppercorns, a little saffon, and a small bowl of sugar (consider it a spice)

an unlikely shopping list

This Catalan sauce is rich and complex, sour, sweet, light, earthy, balanced, and fun. It’s a little demanding, a little fussy, but it’s special enough to do what it takes to make it, and find excuses to serve it.

 

One of the hallmarks of Pre-Columbian European food is the heavy reliance on almonds. Every time I do make an almond-milk based recipe, particularly one calling for significant boiling or acid, I wonder why this wonder ingredient ever left our common repertoire. Is this an American prejudice, or a more general modern one?

 

creamy almond milk in a pan, with chicken broth showing through

as rich as it can be

One note in the translation I have access to is to add “sweetener” at the end, seemingly differentiated from all of the notes about sugar. I need to spend more time with the manuscript to clarify that.

 

a chicken leg in a bowl sitting in the lemon sauce

Definitely needed a bowl.

Recipe: Lemon Sauce

Summary: Sent Sovi

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup almonds
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 3 TBS sugar
  • ½ cup lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
  • 1/8 tsp ginger, powdered
  • 1/8 tsp pepper, ground
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • a little mace, a couple of cloves, a bit of cinnamon, or the spices which strike you as wise

Instructions

  1. Soak the almonds overnight, slip the skins. If they will not slip, poach them in hot water for just a moment, dunk them in cold water, and try again.
  2. Simultaneously put saffron into warm water, let it sit.
  3. Grind any spices which need grinding.
  4. Warm the stock if it is set from storage, and put it with the almonds in the blender.
  5. Whiz.
  6. Strain
  7. Chuck the solids unless you have an immediate use, they would be nice in stuffing a chicken, or mincing with some poultry into a forcemeat for a pie. I’d be leery of saving them even in the freezer for future use, too easy to mix up.
  8. Put resulting liquid into a pot
  9. Add spices and sugar, but not salt or lemon quite yet.
  10. Simmer.
  11. Taste for salt, adjust.
  12. Add the saffron with it’s liquid.
  13. Begin to add lemon juice, ¼ cup first, then a little at a time until you like the flavor. Be mindful that there will be a final shot of acid from verjus at the last moment.
  14. Allow the pot to boil, but watch it closely, it will try very hard to boil over.
  15. After a solid couple of minutes boiling, allow it to cool, taste again for salt and seasonings.
  16. Add any spices which need a little boost, a shot of verjus, and adjust the sugar.
  17. The addition of verjus adds a new dimension to the acid from the lemon, providing a complexity and depth. It’s pleasant without, but fascinating with.
  18. If you find it too runny for service in your situation, you can thicken it pretty easily, but that will affect reheating.

Variations

Ratings:

-absolutely requires fresh lemons

-some people find it too tart

-quite runny and wet

-needs constant attention

-needs careful measuring and planning

-really benefits from the verjus, can be insipid without

+can be scaled up with caution

+overnights well for three days

+can take a hard boil without damage

+Once you know how much lemon juice you prefer in this sauce, you can just pre-measure everything and dump it all in.

Preparation time: 1 day to soak almonds, or blanching time

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4