Cookbook Review: Rao’s Classics

Rao’s is the legendary, tiny corner restaurant in East Harlem where it’s impossible to book a table: each of the red-checked, cloth-covered four-, six-, and two-tops is reserved for a titan of New York industry, a celebrity, or a major politician. Permanently. Now Frank Pellegrino, the third generation of his family to operate the impossible-to-get-into Rao’s restaurant in East Harlem and founder of Rao’s food products line, goes deep into the history of his family, the restaurant, and America’s love affair with Southern Italian cooking to create Rao’s Classics cookbook.

This classic Italian cookbook includes 140+ recipes for family dinners and feasts for friends, including: Meatball Calzone, Linguini Aglio Olio, Lobster Fra Diavolo, Eggplant Parmigiana, Margherita Pizza alla Rao’s, Veal Chops Paillard, Beef Braciola, Stuffed Italian Frying Peppers, Blood Orange and Limoncello Panna Cotta and Rao’s Lemon Chicken (see recipe below).

Rao’s Classics will surprise you with secrets and stories from Rao’s vivid past and popular present. The birth of a restaurant is here, and so is its code of behaviour, how it operates, and which larger-than-life personalities use it as a stage set. It couldn’t happen anywhere else: only at Rao’s.

Rao’s Classics, by Frank Pellegrino Sr. and Jr. is available at and

Rao’s Lemon Chicken

Serves 4

1 cup olive oil

2 cups fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens, halved

1 lemon, cut into wedges

In a large mixing bowl or large glass measuring cup, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until evenly blended.

Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut each broiled or grilled chicken half into 6 pieces (leg, thigh, wing, and three breast pieces). Transfer the pieces to a clean baking sheet.

Whisk the lemon marinade again, and pour over the chicken. Return the chicken on the baking sheet to the oven or onto the grill. When the marinade begins to bubble, turn the chicken pieces and evenly coat them all around in the marinade. Cook for 3 to minutes, or until the chicken pieces are cooked through, turning often.

Transfer the chicken to a warmed serving platter and top with the sauce remaining on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and garnish with the lemon wedges. Serve hot.



Preheat the broiler for 15 minutes. Place the chicken halves, skin side down, on a greased baking sheet or in a greased shallow baking pan. Broil for 15 minutes on each side. Remove from the oven and let rest until cool to the touch. Leave the broiler on.



Generously grease the grill and preheat to 450°F for 15 minutes. Using long grilling tongs, place the chicken halves, skin side down, on the grates. Slide the halves rapidly back to front. This will help release some of the fat in the chicken skin and prevent the chicken from sticking to the grill. Reduce the grill temperature to 350°F. Cook the chicken for 15 minutes on both sides. Remove from the grill and rest until cool to the touch.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank Pellegrino Jr. and Sr. and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.