Lemon is a classic flavor for marinating chicken, especially when paired with black pepper and rosemary. Use a lemon marinade on thin chicken breasts for a quick weeknight meal or marinate a whole chicken for roasting. You can remove the skin and visible fat before marinating chicken pieces; with a recipe this tasty, you won't even miss it. The lemon juice and zest brighten up the flavor of the chicken while tenderizing it.
How to Make a Lemon Marinade
A tasty lemon marinade can be made with equal parts lemon juice and olive oil. Add extra lemon flavor by using the lemon zest as well. Season the marinade with freshly-ground black pepper and one or more herbs such as rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme and garlic. Substituting parsley, black pepper and cayenne pepper for the herbs gives you a spicier lemon marinade. For a more Asian-style lemon marinade, mix lemon juice with soy sauce or tamari sauce and substitute peanut oil for the olive oil. Season it with minced garlic. You need approximately 1/2 cup of marinade for every pound of chicken.
Marinate the chicken in a plastic bag or covered container in the refrigerator. A sealed plastic bag is ideal because the chicken is covered completely in marinade when the air is squeezed out of the bag. Never marinate in a metal container; the acid in the marinade can react with the metal. Marinate chicken in lemon marinade for up to 2 hours. Chicken marinated for longer than 2 hours in lemon juice can break down, ruining the texture of the cooked meat. Discard the marinade after use.
Cooking Lemon Marinated Chicken
Remove the chicken from the marinade and allow it to come to room temperature before cooking. Brown the chicken in a roasting pan under the broiler on the top oven rack. Then move the roasting pan to the middle oven rack and finish cooking the chicken at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also cook the chicken on the grill.
Food Safety for Marinated Chicken
Avoid cross contamination by washing your hands and all cooking surfaces and utensils before and after handling chicken. Some older recipes call for marinating chicken at room temperature. This is never a safe practice, since it allows bacteria the time and temperature to grow. Cooking times vary depending on the size and thickness of the chicken piece. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking chicken to and internal temperature 165 F, measured at the thickest part of the chicken.