Today I’ll be sharing my favorite recipe for lemon chicken marinade along with marinating tips for delicious results every time. What I love about this chicken marinade recipe is that it yields amazing, flavorful chicken in just 20 minutes. Just watch.
So easy, right? Let’s get to it.
If there’s one ingredient I can always rely on, it’s chicken. It’s versatile, full of protein, and easy to create a healthy meal everyone will want to eat and we all know that the right marinade creates a more flavorful piece of chicken.
This simple and light marinade with lemon, garlic, and oregano is just what you need to take your cooked chicken up a notch.
It’s simple to whisk up and adds a ton of flavor to baked, grilled, or pan sauteéd chicken. This marinade works great on many of my simple chicken dinner ideas.
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Let’s get started on this quick chicken marinade, shall we?
Lemon Chicken Marinade Recipe
This Lemon Oregano Chicken makes a healthy and light meal full of bright flavors from the lemon juice and oregano. I love serving it over a big salad or with a side of grilled asparagus.
You can use the marinade with any cut of meat and even make a little extra and reserve it as a dressing for the salad. Here’s what you’ll need:
- olive oil
- lemon zest
- fresh lemon juice
- grated garlic
- dried oregano
- black pepper
Serve with: Lemon Roasted Asparagus
Does Lemon Juice Tenderize Chicken?
Contrary to what we’ve been told, lemon juice and other acids such as vinegar don’t tenderize chicken or other meats. This notion comes from the idea that acids break down proteins in the meat, but in the case of chicken, it’s not so easy. The collagen surrounding the proteins in chicken is too thick for the acids to penetrate through.
Even if they could, the acids wouldn’t tenderize the meat, but cook it, resulting in a tough and rubbery piece of chicken.
So, how do we get that perfectly cooked, moist chicken? It’s simple, by not overcooking it.
A good rule of thumb for white meat chicken is to cook it to 165 F for a tender, juicy piece. Cook it above that, and it’ll be tough and dry. For more tips on how to make juicy chicken, I have an entire post on 6 basic ways to nail every chicken recipe EVER.
How to Marinate Chicken
While marinades don’t necessarily tenderize chicken, they do add flavor. The oils and acids help to break down the flavor compounds in herbs, spices, and aromatic vegetables.
For instance, the lemon juice and olive oil in this Lemon Chicken Marinade help release the flavors of the lemon zest, fresh garlic, and dried oregano. A good way to get the most bang for your buck is to make the marinade the night before and let it seep before combining it with any meat.
Another tip is to work with thinner, flat cuts or pieces of chicken that have been cut into cubes or slices. The marinade will cover more surface area and create a delicious, flavorful piece of chicken in every bite.
Related: Spicy Chicken Marinade
How Long to Marinate Chicken
The benefit of using an acidic marinade like orange or lemon is the acids enter the meat extremely quickly. Unlike soy marinades like the ones in my Korean Chicken Bowls, Thai Chicken, and Balsamic Marinade which can be prepped overnight – this marinade is for those of us who need a flavorful meal, fast.
This quick lemon marinade requires just 20 minutes to enhance the flavor of this amazing chicken.
If you’re planning ahead, you can also use this marinade overnight, but I don’t recommend marinating chicken for over a day. After that, the cooked texture of the meat declines.
Can You Marinate Chicken Too Long?
You can marinate chicken for up to 24 hours. Anything over that time and it’s a good chance that the acids have toughened the meat, which results in dry, stringy chicken.
How to Marinate Chicken Quickly
Forgot to marinate your chicken this morning? No worries, you can still pull off a delicious meal by quickly marinating the meat for 10 to 15 minutes, then baste it with more uncontaminated marinade as it finishes cooking.
Here’s how to marinate chicken quickly:
- Double the marinade recipe and add half of it to a zip bag along with the chicken.
- After 10 – 15 minutes remove the chicken from the marinade and cook as directed.
- Once the chicken is nearly cooked through, baste it with the extra marinade and finish cooking.
As with grilling, the baste will attach to the cooked bits and surface of the chicken, giving it more flavor.
Can You Freeze Marinated Chicken?
If you want to save yourself a lot of time you can prep the chicken and marinade in a bag and freeze it together. Then when you defrost the chicken, you’ll have it perfectly marinated and ready to be cooked into an epic chicken dinner.
How to Make Lemon Chicken
So now that we’ve talked all about marinade and chicken, let’s talk about how to make this delicious, Lemon Chicken:
- In a medium bowl, whisk the mixture to combine the marinade. Pour in a large zip bag.
- Add the chicken breasts to the marinade, and seal. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat up olive oil. Place chicken breasts on skillet and cook, 5-7 minutes on each side, until the chicken is cooked through at an internal temperature of 165F.
- Remove the chicken and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and serving.