This Instant Pot Chinese Lemon Chicken is a delicious takeout recipe with a savoury lemon sauce that comes together with pantry staples!
Ingredients and substitutions
- Lemon juice – freshly squeezed lemon juice is best but the bottled variety will work in a pinch.
- Sugar – honey, coconut sugar or brown sugar would be the best substitutes here.
- Chicken broth – vegetable broth would be the best substitute here.
- Lemon zest – if you don’t have any lemon zest, you can add in a bit more lemon juice.
- Garlic – I prefer freshly minced garlic but you can use the ground variety or even garlic powder if it’s all you have on hand.
- Low-sodium soy sauce – coconut aminos or tamari are great substitutes for soy sauce.
- Salt – to taste.
- Vegetable oil – any neutral cooking oil like canola oil or olive oil will work here.
- Chicken breasts – boneless skinless chicken thighs can be used but will increase the calorie count.
- Cornstarch – use potato starch or arrowroot instead or leave this out altogether for a lower-calorie version.
- Jasmine rice – feel free to swap this out for your favourite kind of rice like brown rice or even quinoa.
- Green onions – slice up some chives or leave these out altogether.
- Sesame seeds – black or white sesame seeds would be a great garnish or you can leave these out altogether.
- Lemon slices – leave these out altogether if you don’t have any on hand.
How to make lemon chicken
- Mix together the lemon juice, sugar, broth, zest, garlic, soy sauce and salt in a bowl.
- Make the rice in a rice cooker.
- Toss the chicken with cornstarch.
- Sauté the chicken in the Instant Pot.
- Add in the sauce.
- Let it sit on sauté mode for 2-3 minutes.
- Serve over rice and enjoy.
Making it on the stovetop
This Chinese lemon chicken can easily be made on the stovetop, so if you don’t have an Instant Pot yet, you don’t need to worry! You could technically also do it in the slow cooker so there are a variety of options.
The key is to first toss the chicken with the cornstarch so that you get a light coating on the chicken pieces. It’s way easier than making a breading for the chicken and it saves calories – plus, you’ll still get that lightly breaded texture that will also serve to thicken up your sauce in the long run.
Once you get the coating on the chicken, you can sauté it in a frying pan. When the chicken is lightly browned, add the sauce and continue cooking down the sauce on the stove or in the slow cooker. If you choose the slow cooker method for this Chinese lemon chicken recipe, you’ll cook on low for 2-3 hours and another 10 minutes on the stovetop.
Frequently Asked Questions
Chinese lemon chicken consists of chicken that’s battered and fried and cooked in a sweet-and-sour lemon sauce, served over rice. Since the sauce is made using pantry staples, there are way less calories and none of the additives you’d find in a takeout version.
For this Instant Pot Chinese chicken recipe, I made it a bit healthier by tossing the chicken in cornstarch instead of deep-frying it. All you have to do is toss the cut-up chicken breasts in a bit of cornstarch and then brown the chicken in the Instant Pot on sauté mode. If you want to make this dish even healthier, you can skip tossing the chicken in cornstarch.
This Chinese lemon chicken recipe has 538 calories per serving, which is a lot less than if you were to order it from your favourite takeout spot.
Storing and reheating
You can store any leftovers of this delicious Chinese lemon chicken in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. I suggest storing the lemon chicken and rice separately for best results. When you’re ready to enjoy, reheat the chicken in a pan on the stovetop or in the microwave. Sprinkle some water over top of the rice before microwaving to ensure it doesn’t dry out!
Freezing this recipe
If you plan on freezing this Chinese lemon chicken recipe, I suggest freezing the chicken after it’s cooked and before adding in the lemon juice. Storing the chicken and lemon sauce separately will ensure the chicken doesn’t get soggy when it defrosts – and no one wants soggy chicken! You can freeze it in airtight glass containers for up to 3 months.
Let the chicken and sauce thaw in the fridge overnight, then continue cooking as normal by adding the sauce to the chicken mixture and sautéing for a few minutes in the Instant Pot. Serve with fresh rice, garnish with some sesame seeds and dig in.
More Asian-inspired Instant Pot recipes
- Instant Pot Cashew Chicken
- Korean-Inspired Instant Pot Short Ribs
- Instant Pot Ramen Noodles with Chicken
Meal prep tools for this recipe
- Grab some glass meal prep bowls if you plan on packing this Chicken Pasta Bake in the freezer and defrosting in the microwave.
- And of course I get all my free-range chicken from Butcher Box!
Instant Pot Chinese Lemon Chicken
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 chicken breasts, diced
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 cups cooked jasmine rice (about 1 cup dry, cooked according to package directions)
- 4 green onions, sliced
- sesame seeds for garnish
- Lemon slices, for garnish
- Mix lemon juice, sugar, chicken broth, lemon zest, garlic, soy sauce and salt together in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Meanwhile, get rice cooking in a rice cooker according to package directions.
- Add vegetable oil to Instant Pot and turn on saute mode. Toss chicken with cornstarch in a large bowl. Add chicken to Instant Pot and saute for 5-7 minutes until lightly browned, then add in sauce, cover with lid and let sit on saute mode for 2-3 minutes.
- Open lid and stir chicken, cooking another 2-3 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Serve overtop of rice and garnish with green onions and sesame seeds. Serve and enjoy!