Oh, the power of suggestion.

I saw an episode of “Barefoot Contessa” recently where Ina visited legendary New York Italian restaurant Rao’s, and learned to cook their famous lemon chicken. Essentially, it’s broiled chicken that’s then bathed in a simple lemon-garlic vinaigrette, but I wanted to eat the television, it looked so succulent. I could barely wait to make it for dinner the next day with fresh poultry from the chicken farm up the road.

I almost always follow a recipe exactly the first time I make it, but this time was an exception. I underestimated the number of lemons I would need, so I was shy on the amount of lemon juice it called for. And because I have an aversion to dried herbs if the real stuff is available, I used fresh oregano. I also chopped a little too much garlic, so I threw it all in. Let me tell you, we were enraptured by the result. Because you cut up the chicken into very small parts, you have to dig in with your hands, letting the sauce infuse every juicy bite, and you can’t help sucking on the bones to get every last drop of flavor. It was a chicken epiphany; an instant hit. Because you wind up with a lot of sauce, I gently heated it with the leftover chicken the next day and poured it all over just-cooked capellini (angel hair pasta). It was like a superb new dish, lacking all that disappointed stigma of “Oh, leftovers.”

The next time I made it, I upped the lemon juice to the amount specified in the original recipe (which, in case you’re wondering, is twice the amount of olive oil). You know what? We tasted the sauce and found it almost inedible. Felt like it was eroding the enamel from our teeth. So I added more olive oil to balance the proportion, and rescued the dish. In fact, I cooked six chickens that night for 10 eaters, and there wasn’t a trace left. Cooked it again the next week for company to more rave reviews and requests for the recipe. It has genuinely become my go-to chicken recipe this summer, and I have a feeling we’ll be enjoying it year-round.

So here, without further ado, is my version of the Rao’s lemon chicken recipe. I hope it brings as much gustatory delight to you and your family as it has to ours.


Almost Rao’s Lemon Chicken


    • 2 (2-1/2 to 3 pound) broiling chickens, quartered
    • Lemon sauce, recipe follows
    • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Lemon Sauce:

    • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
    • 1 cup olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
    • Salt and pepper, to taste


Whisk together juice, oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Whisk or shake vigorously before using.

Preheat broiler at least 15 minutes prior to using. Broil chicken quarters, turning once, for about 25 minutes or until skin is golden-brown and juices run clear when bird is pierced with a fork.

Toward the end of the broiling, heat the lemon sauce on the stove.

Remove chicken from broiler, leaving broiler on. Using a very sharp knife, cut up each chicken quarter: wing, leg (cut off and discard bottom part of bone), halve the thigh, and cut the breast into 3 small pieces.

Place chicken on a baking sheet (that will fit in the broiler) with sides. Pour lemon sauce over the chicken and toss to coat well. If necessary, divide sauce in 1/2 and do this in 2 batches.

Return chicken to broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes.

To serve on individual plates: Portion the chicken onto each of 6 warm serving plates. Pour sauce into a heavy saucepan. Stir in parsley and place over high heat for 1 minute. Pour an equal amount of sauce over each chicken.

To serve family style: Place chicken and sauce in large serving bowl. Sprinkle with parsley.

Either way, serve with lots of crusty bread to absorb the sauce.

Serves 6


2 Responses to “Almost Rao’s Lemon Chicken”

  1. Sharon Teich says:

    I’ve made thisamy times great dish I had forgotten about it and have not made since moving to Texas thanks for refreshing my memory making it tonight

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