A robustly flavored Citrus Chicken Marinade comes complete with fresh orange and lime juice. The citrus sauce has three purposes — marinating, basting, and a finishing sauce.
The Best Citrus Chicken Recipe
We’re obsessed with summer citrus chicken recipe! First of all, each and every bite is packed with flavor, and second, this recipe is so easy to prepare.
Quick overview: We toss all the ingredients into a blender, give it a whirl, and then we’ll use that mixture three times. One quick prep for three uses — score!
- Sauce. Right out of the blender, pour out some of the mixture into a jar with a lid and set it aside in the fridge. This will be our chicken finishing sauce.
- Basting. Next, pour out a little more into a separate container. We’ll use this to baste the chicken as it cooks. (See “quick tip” box below.)
- Marinade. Finally, we’ll pour the rest over the chicken and marinate.
Basting is a culinary technique for moistening meat as it cooks. Not only does it contribute moisture, but it also adds flavor to the surface of the meat. We use part of the Citrus Chicken Marinade for basting — no need to whip up a separate mixture!
Citrus Marinade For Chicken
Here are the ingredients in Citrus Chicken Marinade:
- Oranges: We use the zest and juice here!
- Limes: Again, zest and juice for maximum flavor.
- Cilantro: This herb adds a bright, citrusy freshness and flavor. Replace with flat-leaf Italian parsley if you aren’t a fan of cilantro.
- Soysauce: We use lite soy sauce to control saltiness in this marinade. If you only have regular/all-purpose soy sauce, just reduce the amount of salt added.
- Honey: Balances the tangy flavors and adds some sweetness.
- Dijon mustard: A great flavor add and thickener; make sure to use Dijon, not yellow mustard (the two aren’t interchangeable here!).
- Minced garlic: Or use 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Salt & pepper: Adjust this addition to personal preference and add until flavors “sing.”
- Olive oil: We add oil last and slowly drizzle it in while blending to get a nice emulsion. Sometimes when oil is blended for an extended period it can take on a metallic flavor, so I like to avoid that by adding the oil after everything is smooth.
How Long Can Chicken Marinate in Citrus?
A lot of marinades will call for extended marinating periods, even overnight. But NOT this Citrus Chicken Marinade. In fact, whenever there is citrus or an acidic component, we recommend a shorter marinating time, about 2-3 hours, and no longer than 4 hours. This is because the citric acid will begin to “cook” the chicken and will result in drier chicken. (Thighs are more forgiving than breasts with longer marinating time.) If you’ve ever had ceviche, you’ve seen the magic of “cooking” raw foods with citrus!
And on the flip side, even 30 minutes of marinating the chicken is effective. For a quicker marinating time, cut breasts in half horizontally to create 2 thin pieces. For thighs, poke a few holes using the tines of a fork. This will help the marinade penetrate the meat for the shorter marinating time.
Marinate or marinade? The two words talk about the same thing, but one’s a verb and one’s a noun. When you put a sauce onto uncooked food and let it absorb flavor, you are marinating it. The sauce that you pour over the raw food is called a marinade. And in this recipe, you are marinating the chicken with delicious citrus marinade. Confused yet?!
Citrus Chicken Marinade Grilling Tips
- Thighs or breasts? Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are our meat of choice in this Citrus Chicken Marinade. The meat is extremely tender and more forgiving (meat doesn’t dry out) if grilled or marinated a little too long. That said, breasts will work too. If using breasts, slice breasts in half before marinating. Slice and/or pound your chicken breasts into evenly thick pieces before marinating. That way they’ll soak up all the delicious flavor from the marinade and they’ll cook evenly. We don’t want to pound the breasts to be flat, just to be even thickness throughout. Even thickness means all parts of the chicken will be done at the same time. I really like this meat mallet, and here’s a good YouTube video that illustrates the pounding process.
- Flip chicken while marinating. Throughout the marinating process, be sure to flip the bag of marinating chicken onto the other side. We don’t want just one side of the chicken getting flavorful!
- Generously oil your grill grates. I do this by rolling up a few paper towels, drenching them in oil (canola or vegetable), and using tongs, rubbing the drenched paper towels along the grill grates. This will contribute to a beautiful sear, and ensure the chicken doesn’t stick to the grates.
- Let the chicken rest. Tented with foil, let the chicken stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting in. This allows the juices to redistribute inside the chicken; this means juicier meat!
Citrus Chicken Marinade Serving Suggestions
Make the rice while the grill preheats and the chicken cooks. If you’re grilling the veggies, put them alongside the chicken on the grill. Divide rice among plates, add thinly sliced chicken on top, veggies on the side, and drizzle the sauce over everything.
Another way to serve this: in a bigsalad! Toss some mixed greens with half of the reserved sauce. Add diced or thinly sliced chicken, some mandarin or clementine oranges, feta or goat cheese, and candied or toasted sliced almonds or pistachios. Drizzle the remaining sauce on top and enjoy!
We love zesting the lemons and oranges with a microplane and then juicing them with this citrus juicer. These two tools make the recipe prep a breeze!
More Grilled Chicken Recipes
- Cilantro Lime Chickenwith a mango-avocado salsa
- Grilled Curry Chickenwith coconut milk
- Grilled Chicken Marinadeour favorite all-purpose marinade
- Pineapple Chickengrilled chicken with a pineapple salsa
- Grilled Chicken with Avocado Salsaand grilled sweet corn
Citrus Chicken Marinade
Citrus Chicken Marinade
- 1/3cupfreshly squeezed orange juice + 1 tsp zest(1-2 large oranges)
- 2tablespoonsfreshly squeezed lime juice + 1 tsp zest(1-2 limes)
- 2tablespoonscoarsely chopped cilantroor parsley
- 1tablespoon + 1 teaspoonlow-sodium soy sauce
- 1teaspoons each:Dijon mustard, minced garlic
- Fine sea salt & pepper
- 1/4cupolive oil
- 1-1/2poundsboneless skinless chicken thighs(Note 1)
- Forserving: we love this chicken over coconut rice and roasted or grilled veggies make a nice side!
PREP: Use a microplane to zest orange(s) and lime(s) to get 1 teaspoon zest of each. Use a citrus juicer to juice oranges and limes to get 1/3 cup orange juice and 2 tablespoons lime juice. If using chicken breasts instead of thighs, see Note 1 for chicken prep.
BLEND: Add lime and orange zest and juice to a blender or food processor. Add 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, salt & pepper to taste (I add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Blend until smooth, about 45 seconds. Drizzle in olive oil and blend just until emulsified. Do not over-blend with oil; it can make the sauce taste metallic.
SEPARATESAUCE: We’re going to separate the sauce for three different uses. Remove 1/3 cup and place in a separate jar or container and refrigerate (this will be our finishing sauce). Remove another 3 tablespoons and place in a separate jar or container (this will be our basting sauce).
MARINATE: Pour the rest of the marinade into a large bag. Add chicken thighs or breasts to the bag. Seal the bag without air in it and knead the marinade into the chicken. Place in the fridge and marinate for 2-3 hours, flipping the bag to the other side halfway in between marinating time. Do not marinate longer than 4 hours (Note 2).
GRILL CHICKEN: Preheat grill to medium-high (400-450 degrees F.) Add chicken to a clean, well-greased grill (I grease grill grates by holding a vegetable oil-drenched paper towel with tongs and rubbing it across grates). Using tongs, pick up chicken from the bag, allowing excess marinade to drip off. Place chicken flat on the grill, and use a pastry brush to immediately brush on some of the reserved 3 tablespoons basting mixture. Close grill and cook for 4-5 minutes or until nicely caramelized. Use a sharp metal turner to scrape up and flip the chicken to the other side. Brush chicken generously with the rest of the reserved basting mixture. Close the grill and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the chicken registers 160 degrees F. (Timing will vary based on the size of the chicken and the actual heat of the grill.) Remove to a plate and cover loosely with foil to rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice. Taste and add more salt if needed.
SERVING: We love serving this chicken over coconut rice with some roasted or grilled veggies. Divide rice evenly among plates and then top with grilled sliced chicken. Drizzle the reserved 1/3 cup finishing sauce evenly over everything and enjoy!
Note 2: Marinating time: We recommend a shorter marinating time, about 2-3 hours and no longer than 4 hours. This is because the citric acid will begin to «cook» the chicken and will result in drier chicken. Even 30 minutes of marinating the chicken is effective. If planning to marinate for short time, poke a few holes using the tines of a fork into the thighs (no need to do this to breasts). This will help the marinade penetrate the meat in the shorter marinating time. (Don’t pierce thighs if marinating for 2+ hours).
Why divide the sauce? Raw chicken can contaminate other foods, so we take pains to be sure the raw meat never touches the basting or finishing sauce. The sauce that goes into the marinade is discarded after use to prevent any cross-contamination issues. Food safety, people!
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