Recipe: The Best Citrus Marinade for Chicken

citrus & chile "barbecued" chicken; so good, we made it two weeks in a row.

The best citrus marinade for chicken? I discovered it on accident. Over the past year, Joe and I have gotten really into the whole meal prepping thing. Work got crazier, lives got busier, and all of a sudden, prepping a ton of food on Sunday afternoons not only became a fun mental break for me, it also made my lunches and our dinners a bagillion times easier. Joe always jokes that I’m like MacGyver in the kitchen anyway, and can whip something up out of nothing, and meal prepping makes that even easier. I usually try to spend a couple hours on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon making a variety of things we can mix and match (and worst case scenario: turn into a soup) throughout the week.

One of the things we make most regularly is some type of roasted chicken. Some weeks I’ll roast a whole chicken; others, bone-in breasts; still others, chicken thighs. Last fall, our jam was this jerk chicken recipe that I adapted from the New York Times. Being apartment dwellers with zero access to an outdoor grill, I learned that the secret to perfectly crispy, charred, “am-I-at-an-outdoor-barbecue?” chicken is to roast it atop wire racks. This allows air to circulate around the meat, and if you have a convection oven like us, double bonus! I found that if I roasted on wire racks, with a super high temperature and the convection fan on, I could achieve a char that was similar to grilling on a barbecue. It was a revelation!

So why was this marinade discovered on accident? Recently, I wanted to try a citrus, chile and herb marinade. While normally I hit the store on the weekends, a few weeks ago, Joe volunteered to go, and I sent him with checklist in hand. Listed first among the produce? A navel orange to create the base for my marinade. When he came home, he’d accidentally purchased a pink grapefruit, and while I’ll admit to teasing him about it for a hot minute, I was also intrigued to try it. It ended up being delicious. The bitterness of the grapefruit mellows out, and it has just enough sugar to ensure a beautiful char on the skin. Mixed with lemon and lime, it creates a perfect citrus flavor that tastes delicious with fruity serrano chiles. Navel oranges? Who needs ’em.

Here’s the recipe, along with photos showing you how to roast the meat:


Citrus & Chile Marinated Chicken

The best citrus marinade for chicken!
Serves 6

2 large organic ruby red grapefruits*
2 organic limes
2 organic lemons
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 serrano chiles, stemmed, washed and thinly sliced on the bias**
2 tbsp garlic, peeled and minced (about 6-7 whole cloves)
3 tbsp dijon mustard
1.5 tbsp kosher salt
.75 tbsp freshly ground black pepper (can do more or less!)
6-4 4″ rosemary stems
1 bunch of thyme
6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs***

baking sheet
aluminum foil
wire racks – 1 large, or 2 small, to fit into the baking sheet.

In a large, non-reactive casserole dish or baking dish, use a microplane to zest the grapefruit, limes and lemons. Then, cut each piece of fruit in half, and juice into a large glass measuring cup, or directly into the dish. While this marinade doesn’t need to be exact to be delicious, the volume of citrus should result in about 1 cup of grapefruit juice, and 1/4 cup each of lemon and lime juice. So if you’re into exact measurements, use the measuring cup; if not, don’t worry about it.

Next, add in the olive oil, serrano chiles, minced garlic, dijon mustard, salt and pepper to the dish. Using your fingers, pull the rosemary leaves off the stems, moving from the top of each stem towards the bottom. This should strip the leaves off easily. Roughly chop, then add to the mixture in the dish. Grab your bunch of thyme. If the stems seem very tender and soft, you can simply pull the tops of the thyme off, stems and leaves both, give a rough chop, and add to the mixture. If the stems are more woody — like tiny twigs — use the same technique as you did with the rosemary to pull the leaves off, working from the top of the stem and pulling backwards toward the base. Then, give the leaves a rough chop, and add to the dish. Use a whisk or fork to mix all of the ingredients in the baking dish together.

Next, add each chicken thigh into the mixture, being sure to turn them over a few times to coat. I also like to use a spoon to load herbs, garlic and chiles on top of each piece of meat, and make sure the liquid gets into all the crevices. Here’s what it looks like:

Cover with plastic wrap, and store on the bottom of your refrigerator away from prepared foods. Marinate for 6-24 hours, flipping the meat over half way through, and arranging more of the chiles, garlic and herbs on the new “top” side. While you can do a short marinade here, trust me when I say this recipe is better if you can give it a full 24. I typically like to prepare this the afternoon before I’m going to cook the meat (say, a Sunday afternoon), and then roast the following day for dinner.

After I flipped my marinade over, late in the morning of the day I was going to roast it for dinner!

When you are ready to cook the meat, preheat your oven to 450°F. If you have a convection oven, be sure the fan is on as well; it’ll promote browning. Line your baking sheet with foil several times. This step isn’t essential, but it does make clean up a LOT easier, given that the marinade will char on the bottom of the pan. Once lined, set the wire racks atop the foil, like this:

I use two small wire racks placed inside a larger baking sheet. You want to line with foil, trust me.

Place the chicken on top of the racks skin side up, and optionally, spoon some of the chiles, garlic and herbs atop the skin, so it will char and be delicious when cooked! Discard the rest of the marinade.

With the oven heated, roast the chicken for 25-40 minutes, until it is charred and the internal temperature in the deepest part of the largest thigh reads 160°F. Let rested for 10 minutes; the temperature of the meat will continue to rise. Note that cooking time can vary greatly here, depending on your oven. For example, I have a convection oven that lets heat out very easily, so while convection normally means faster cooking, these thighs took around 30-35 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they cook, and use your nose as a guide for burning. If yours get too charred, you can try rotating the pan part way through cooking, or tent very dark pieces with foil.

Once rested, serve with your fave sides — we love with roasted vegetables and brown rice, but the meat is also great in salads!

Notes on the recipe:

* Here, I recommend organic citrus just because you are using the outside of the fruit (the zest).

** Sensitive to heat? Try jalapeño peppers instead. If you really can’t take the heat, you can omit the chiles entirely.

*** I personally prefer dark meat, but bone-in, skin on chicken breasts would work for this too. When roasting chicken, I prefer to roast meat with the bone in, as I think this keeps it juicier. However, this recipe could be used with boneless skinless chicken breasts, but you will not get quite the same golden brown deliciousness on the outside. You will also want to reduce your cooking time, and pull the meat when the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F.



Recipe and photos by Victoria McGinley


  1. 5.15.18
    Kelsey said:

    What are your thoughts on trying this marinade out on tofu or tempeh?
    Maybe I should just give it a whirl and report back!

    • 5.16.18
      Victoria said:

      Give it a whirl and see. With tofu, I worry it would absorb a lot of the liquid and make for a texture that’s too soft, or won’t get as crisp because it’s all saturated. Maybe the same with tempeh. One idea might be to use the same ingredients for the marinade, and instead, cook it all together and reduce it to make a glaze. Then, roast the protein the same way in the oven, glazing as you go along, so the outside gets crisped and brown and imparts the flavor.

  2. 5.16.18
    Rosanna said:

    I just love this dish !!!!

  3. 5.27.18
    Sarah said:

    Just made this chicken and its absolutely amazing!

    • 5.28.18
      Victoria said:

      YAY! Thank you for coming back and telling me! I’m so happy to hear you loved it!!

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