Sunday, December 27, 2015

Loving our Meyer Lemon

Just over a year ago when we moved in, we purchased a Meyer Lemon tree at Mid-City Nursery and that tree has been a continuous bright spot on our patio. It's still a very young tree but it produces a near continuous crop of sweet, tasty lemons that I have used to make chicken piccata, lemon tea cookies, and of course, lemonade.

We are ready to harvest all but two of the lemons today, which means I'll  make Steve chicken piccata this week. (Scroll all the way to the bottom for my recipe.)

I love the lemon tree because the fragrance of the blossoms perfumes the entire patio.  The fragrance reminds me a lot of gardenias...  heady, intense, floral.  And once again, it is filled with fragrant blooms which will hopefully lead to another bumper crop of lemons.

Meyer lemons are natives of China, thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or common orange.  They were first introduced into the United States in 1908 by a USDA employee and food explorer Frank Nicholas Mayer.  In China, they were primarily considered ornamental trees and they were grown in pots, their fruit largely overlooked as a food staple. 
They languished here as well until re-discovered by restaurateur and Chef Alisa Waters, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkley, California.  Chef Waters, who is credited with pioneering the "California Cuisine" movement in the 1990's, has been one of the most prominent promoters of the movement to use locally grown, organic, fresh ingredients in cooking. 

Whereas Chef Waters increased the popularity of the Meyer lemon in California, Martha Stewart introduced it to the rest of the country when she began featuring it in her recipes in the late 2,000's. 

In 2010, we acquired our first Meyer lemon tree from a mail order nursery after we saw one at a flower show.  The tree was healthy but slow to acclimate -- we kept it indoors in late fall and winter and put it back on the deck in spring after the last frost.  It bloomed prolifically but the fruit was so slow to develop, even slower to ripen, at first we thought they sent us a lime tree by mistake.  I contacted the nursery and when they stopped chuckling, they told me to just be patient...  the lemons would grow and ripen in the fall, and they did.

I love to use Meyer lemons in cooking because they are lemony tart without being sour or bitter.  And Meyer lemons are slightly larger than the usual lemons you get in the store so you get a generous amount of juice and zest.  Below are some more pictures of our lemon tree and if you scroll down to the end of the post, I've included my recipe for Chicken Piccata with Lemon and Capers. 

Chicken Piccata with Lemon and Capers


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one per person)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large or extra-large egg
1 Tablespoon water

3/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs

Extra light olive oil (2T or enough to coat the bottom of the pan)

1 large or 2 small fresh lemons, reserve thin slices from middle of cut halves, then zest and squeeze

1 can salt free chicken broth
1/2 cup to 1 cup (to taste) white wine (I use Riesling mostly, but Moscato is fine also)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon  (see above)

1 generous teaspoon fresh lemon zest 
1 generous teaspoon of capers, rinsed
Thin slices lemon (see above)
3 Tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Pasta, for serving (I use angel hair or linguine)


Prepare the lemons:  Cut each lemon into halves, then slice 2-3 very thin slices from each half (paper thin, half moon slices are fine) and set aside.  Squeeze and zest the lemons. Set juice and zest aside.

Place chicken breasts in a large food storage bag and pound out to 1/4-inch thick.   Cut into medallions approximately 1 to 1-1/2 in wide/long. 

Mix the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a large zip-lock bag. Put the chicken medallions in the bag and shake to coat.  

In a shallow bowl, beat the egg and water together. Place the bread crumbs in a second shallow bowl. Dip each flour-coated chicken breast medallion first in the egg and then roll in the bread crumbs to coat.

Lightly cover the inside bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  I use olive oil for sautéing or “extra light” as it has more flavor than extra virgin oil. Add the chicken medallions and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until browned and just cooked through.  Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. 

Make the sauce in the same sauté pan. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and wine to the pan and adjust the heat to bring the sauce to a gentle boil. Continue to cook until the volume is reduced by about half.
Once the sauce is reduced, turn off the heat and then add the butter, capers, reserved lemon slices, and lemon zest and swirl in the pan to melt the butter and combine. 

To serve, put pasta in a flat bowl, top with chicken medallions, spoon the sauce (include some capers and lemons slices) over the chicken and pasta and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.


Meyer Lemon 
Chef Alice Waters


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