Lemon Chicken with Pine Nuts and Prosciutto

Dsc01299On the former CBS sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, Raymond’s wife, Debra, was not known for her cooking acumen, and her mother-in-law, Marie, never let her forget it.  One of the few dishes that Raymond did find appealing, but only when Debra cooked it, was Lemon Chicken, so to spite Marie she cooked it, often.   

When most people think of Lemon Chicken, they think of the deep fried version found on every Chinese take-out menu across America, which is coated with a thick, sweet lemony sauce that would be equally fitting as a dessert topping.  Because the Barone family had such pride in their Italian heritage however, one can only assume that Debra’s version of the dish was closer to pollo al limone, a classic Tuscan version, which is much lighter, but more complex in flavor than its Asian counterpart.

I need to say that, while I am improving, I am by no means a professional food photographer, and that even though the photograph of today’s dish definitely doesn’t do it justice, I didn’t want to leave the photo out completely.  I didn’t realize, until after we had finished every last bite and then I looked at the pictures, how dominant the beige and yellow colors were and that it is difficult to pick out all of the fantastic ingredients that this recipe has to offer–should have used a red plate instead…..

The golden hue of the chicken can be attributed to the inclusion of a small amount of saffron in the recipe.  The remaining ingredients are like a who’s-who of Tuscan cuisine: pine nuts, prosciutto, olive oil, parsley, garlic, thyme, and lemon juice, a combination that results in one tasty and healthy way to cook chicken.  Simmering the chicken with the other ingredients infuses it with flavor and keeps it nice and moist.  As shown above, serve it over whole wheat couscous or pilaf with a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc to round out the meal.  No matter how you decide to serve it, I’m sure you’ll find that Everybody Loves Lemon Chicken!  Here are a few tips for this light and lovely lemon chicken:

  • If you don’t have a mini-chopper to combine the pine nut mixture, then you can just finely chop the ingredients instead.  There is not a large enough quantity for a standard sized food processor or a blender to be effective.
  • If you don’t have prosciutto or if you can’t find it, then you can substitute thinly sliced ham, turkey bacon, or regular bacon.  If you use turkey bacon or bacon, because it is uncooked, you will want to add it to the pan first and saute it for a few minutes prior to adding the onion and red pepper.
  • Saffron is the most expensive spice, so if you don’t have any in supply, then you can just omit it from the recipe.  Saffron is what give the chicken a nice rich golden-yellow hue after simmering.  Just a pinch of the red saffron threads goes a long way in flavoring recipes, which is why it is usually bought in such small quantities (in addition to the steep price, of course).  I have been able to find reasonably priced saffron in the spice section of World Market, along with a large supply of other inexpensive spices and spice blends.
  • If you don’t have fresh ginger, then substitute 1 level teaspoon of dried ginger.

Lemon Chicken with Pine Nuts and Prosciutto

Serves 6


3 tablespoons pine nuts

3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion

1/4 cup finely chopped prosciutto

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 large bay leaf

Couscous or brown rice for serving (optional)

Combine the pine nuts, parsley, saffron, garlic, and salt in a mini food processor.  Process until the mixture forms a paste and set aside.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken; cook for 3 minutes on each side or until the chicken is browned.  Remove the chicken from the pan and transfer to a plate.  Cover with foil to keep warm.  Add the onion, prosciutto, and crushed red pepper to the pan.  Saute the mixture for 3-4 minutes or until the onion is tender.  Stir in the broth, wine, lemon juice, thyme, ginger, pepper and bay leaf.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Stir the pine nut mixture into the pan and then return the chicken to the pan.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes longer or until the chicken is done.  Discard the bay leaf.

Serve the chicken over a bed of couscous or brown rice and top with the pine nut and prosciutto mixture.

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