Lemon chicken is a classic dish that brings a zesty twist to your dinner table. This dish is a go-to for home cooks looking to impress with minimal fuss. Perfect for a weeknight meal or a special occasion, lemon chicken is versatile, delicious, and sure to please.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Effortlessly Delicious: Easy to make using pantry staple ingredients.
  • Versatile and Pleasing: Ideal for both casual dinners and special occasions, loved by adults and kids alike.
  • Quick to Prepare: A convenient choice for busy weeknights.
  • Pairs Well with Many Sides: Complements a variety of side dishes for a complete, satisfying meal.
Close up view of lemon chicken in a skillet.

This lemon chicken is your new go-to for a fast and fabulous meal. It’s all about minimal prep and maximum flavor, making it a perfect choice for a weeknight meal, but fancy enough for company.

This recipe is super easy to make, and absolutely delicious. It’s one of those quick and easy weeknight meals that you’ll want to keep forever because miraculously, even picky eaters tend to like it! All you have to do is pick a couple of easy sides to go with it, and you have yourself a full meal. Meals like this are what we grew up on, and we still love it just as much as we did decades ago. If you are tired of fighting with your kids to finish their dinner, this is the recipe for you. As a bonus, you’ll love it too!

Ingredient Breakdown and Substitutes

Chicken Breasts: The main protein of the dish, offering a lean, mild flavor that pairs well with lemon.

  • Substitute: Chicken thighs for a richer taste (use equal weight); tofu (drained and pressed, equal weight) for a vegetarian option.

Lemon Juice: Provides the signature zesty, bright flavor to the dish.

  • Substitute: Lime juice (equal amount) for a tangy twist; bottled lemon juice if fresh isn’t available (1:1 ratio).

Olive Oil: Used for cooking the chicken, adds a subtle, fruity undertone.

  • Substitute: Canola or vegetable oil (1:1 ratio) for a neutral taste; melted butter (1:1 ratio) for richness.

Lemon Pepper: Adds a citrusy, peppery kick.

  • Substitute: Mix of black pepper and lemon zest (½ teaspoon pepper + 1 teaspoon zest for 1 teaspoon lemon pepper); black pepper and citric acid (½ teaspoon pepper + a pinch of citric acid for 1 teaspoon lemon pepper).

Dried Basil: Offers a sweet, aromatic herb flavor.

  • Substitute: Fresh basil (1 tablespoon for 1 teaspoon dried) for a fresher taste; dried oregano (1:1 ratio) for a similar herby note.

Dried Oregano: Brings an earthy, slightly bitter taste.

  • Substitute: Fresh oregano (1 tablespoon for 1 teaspoon dried) for a more intense flavor; dried thyme (1:1 ratio) for an earthy aroma.

Salt: Enhances the overall flavor of the dish.

  • Substitute: Kosher salt (1½ times the amount of table salt) for a less intense saltiness; salt substitute (according to package instructions) for low-sodium diets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use bone-in chicken for this recipe?

Yes, you can use bone-in chicken. However, keep in mind that the cooking time may need to be adjusted, as bone-in chicken usually takes longer to cook through.

How can I make sure the chicken doesn’t turn out dry?

To prevent the chicken from drying out, avoid overcooking it. Cook just until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Also, letting the chicken rest for a few minutes after cooking helps retain its juices.

How can I tell if the chicken is done cooking without a thermometer?

If you don’t have a thermometer, you can use the touch test alongside visual cues. When fully cooked, chicken should feel firm but not hard. If you press on the thickest part of the chicken breast with a utensil, it should feel springy rather than mushy or overly firm. Additionally, check by cutting into the thickest part; the juices should run clear, and the meat should be white all the way through without any pink parts. Remember, using a thermometer is the most reliable method to ensure the chicken has reached the safe internal temperature of 165°F.

What is the ideal marinating time for lemon chicken, and how short can it be?

The ideal marinating time for lemon chicken is usually between 30 minutes to 2 hours. However, if you’re short on time, a minimum of 15 minutes can still impart a good flavor. Keep in mind that the longer you marinate, the more pronounced and deep the flavors will be. For the best balance of flavor, try not to exceed 4 hours, especially with acidic marinades like lemon juice, as they can start to break down the proteins and affect the texture of the chicken.

Can I freeze the chicken in the marinade?

Yes, you can freeze chicken in the marinade. This can actually be a great time-saver as the chicken will marinate while thawing. Place the chicken and marinade in a freezer-safe bag, expel as much air as possible, and freeze. When ready to use, thaw the chicken in the refrigerator. This slow thawing process is safe and allows the chicken to marinate effectively. Depending on the size and quantity of your chicken pieces, thawing can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight. It’s important not to thaw at room temperature, as this can lead to bacterial growth. Once thawed, cook the chicken as per the recipe instructions.

Do I have to marinate in a plastic bag?

No, you can always marinate in a shallow dish. Simply whisk the marinade in a mixing bowl, place your chicken in, and pour the marinade right over.

Use This For Weekly Meal Prep

Prepare the chicken in advance, either by marinating and cooking it at the start of the week or freezing it in the marinade for later use. Once cooked, the chicken can be sliced and stored in the refrigerator, making it a quick addition to various meals throughout the week. It pairs well with salads, can be added to wraps or sandwiches, or served alongside roasted vegetables and grains for a wholesome meal. For those who enjoy batch cooking, lemon chicken can be portioned into individual servings, ensuring a ready-to-go lunch or dinner option.

Overhead view of lemon chicken.

Make It A Complete Meal

Serve with Grains: Pair lemon chicken with a side of fluffy rice, quinoa, or couscous.

Add Vegetables: Roasted or steamed vegetables complement the zesty chicken well. Consider options like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, or dress up frozen vegetables for a quick and easy option.

Top A Salad: A fresh salad, whether it’s a simple green salad, a Caeser salad, or a more elaborate Greek salad, adds a refreshing element to the meal.

Include a Starch: For a heartier meal, add a starch like roasted or mashed potatoes, or even a slice of crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices from the chicken.

Pair with Pasta: Lemon chicken goes well with a simple pasta for a hearty and filling meal.

Garnishes and Toppings: A sprinkle of fresh parsley, lemon slices, or a dash of parmesan can elevate the dish further.

Storage and Reheating Instructions: 

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. For longer storage, freeze the chicken in a freezer-safe container or bag for up to 2-3 months.

The best way to reheat is in the oven or on the stovetop until it’s heated through. You can also use a microwave, but be sure to cover the chicken and use a medium power setting to avoid drying it out. Remember, chicken should only be reheated once, so only warm the amount you plan to eat.

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