Dinner Rush! Lemon-Pepper Chicken with Orzo

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I can remember growing up and rifling in awe through my grandma’s collection of spices. The sights and smells of things like mace, nutmeg and ginger were exotic to a curious 8-year-old. What did not seem that exotic, though, was a jar plainly labeled Lemon & Pepper. I mean, it smelled nice and all, but what was so special about lemon with pepper in it that it needed to be bottled and extolled on a shelf?

Remember when you were a kid and, by total happenchance, something flipped a switch in your head and made you realize that there was a whole world happening around you that you hadn’t paid much attention to before? Like your own little mini mental revolution? Familiarizing myself with that aromatic jar of black and yellow powder turned some sort of key in the lock of my view of the world. A blindfold I didn’t even know was there had been removed, and I started noticing lemon pepper everywhere: on restaurant menus, in other’s people’s kitchens, on cooking shows, at the grocery store. Apparently this was a thing. Apparently I’d also been fed a lot of it without even knowing it.

Somehow it’s less the flavor and more the idea of lemon pepper that reminds me of growing up. So many people around me reached for that red-labeled McCormick jar as their secret ingredient for weeknight dinners. (Or in the case of my dad, a guy whose cooking knowledge knows few frontiers, lemon pepper was a lifeline.) As an adult whose life now revolves around food, I reach for real lemon and freshly ground pepper. The flavor is much fresher. The nostalgia still tastes the same, though. It tastes like being young and blissfully ignorant — like finding something new hidden among the everyday.

Lemon-Pepper Chicken with Orzo
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Level: Easy
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and ground black pepper
Four 3- to 4-ounce chicken cutlets (about 1/2 inch thick)
1/2 pound (half a box) orzo
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/4 pound feta, crumbled

Place a medium pot of salted water over high heat to boil.

In a mixing bowl whisk together the lemon zest and juice, mustard, coriander, garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and lots of pepper. Transfer about two-thirds of the dressing to a second mixing bowl and reserve. Add the chicken to the remaining one-third of dressing and toss it well to coat. Let the chicken marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook to al dente according to package directions.

Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook the marinated chicken in the pan, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total.

Drain the cooked orzo and, while it’s still warm, add it to the bowl with the reserved two-thirds of dressing. Add the onion, dill, almonds and feta to the orzo; toss the mixture well to coat.

Serve the orzo with the cooked chicken.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione and Bobby Deen, he now works as a content developer and programmer for FoodNetwork.com in NYC by day and a recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter & Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com .

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