There’s nothing quite like the combination of lemon and chicken. Some kind of indescribable magic happens. The two make each other better. It’s a flavor pairing that jogs distinct memories for me, from childhood trips to Souplantation to my dad’s roast chicken.
This lemon herb chicken marinade draws inspiration from a few places: nocrumbsleft’s Heroine Chicken, I Heart Umami’s rendition of that same chicken, and my dad’s salt and lemon roast chicken. With time, the recipe morphed into a rendition of the three and I’m thrilled to finally share this crowd-pleasing recipe with you as part of the finale for our Back to Basics series.
There are two key components to this recipe: sumac, and your most reliable kitchen tool—your hands. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to get your hands dirty for this. We’ll be using your fists to tenderize the chicken, which will be in a resealable bag.) Let’s get started!
How to Keep Chicken Moist and Tender in the Oven
Dry chicken? We’ve all been there (and it’s quite sad). In technical terms, a brine is used to help retain moisture, especially for leaner meats like chicken. However, I’ve found this lemon herb chicken marinade does a great job at keeping chicken moist and tender in the oven. While both methods take preparation and time, think of the extra step as an insurance policy for a moist chicken.
Another recommendation is to buy your chicken bone-in and skin-on. The bone helps distribute heat evenly, keeping the meat moist and tender, while the skin helps seal in moisture. By getting your chicken bone-in and skin-on, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. I always save my bones for making stock. Not to mention, the roasted chicken skin is arguable the most drool-worthy part of this dish.
My last piece of advice for tender meat is to use your best kitchen tool: your hands. Not to fear, you won’t need to get your hands dirty for this. I typically keep the marinade in a resealable bag (you can use a Ziploc or Stasher bag) and tenderize the meat by making two fists and beating the meat. You don’t have to exhaust yourself—the goal isn’t to flatten the meat completely, rather to help with the breakdown process.
What Does Marinating Chicken Do?
The primary functions of a marinade are to add flavor and tenderize by beginning the breakdown process of cooking. There are three components of a marinade:
- an acid
- an oil
- a flavoring agent
The oil acts as a flavor carrier and helps retain moisture, while the acid breaks down tissue and helps tenderize the meat.
In this lemon herb chicken marinade, olive oil is our fat of choice that works as a carrier for the herbs used in the marinade: garlic, sumac, lemon zest, parsley, and pepper. The lemon is—as you probably guessed—our acid of choice.
What is Sumac Good For?
Earlier I mentioned there were two key components that make this recipe so special.
One was your hands, using your fists to tenderize the meat, a method passed on from my dad’s roast chicken. The other key component? It’s sumac.
Sumac is a fragrant, tangy spice widely used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It derives from the berries of the wild sumac flower. It’s flavor is acidic, akin to lemon, making it a perfect addition to this lemon herb chicken marinade.
Like many herbs, sumac is rich in antioxidants. According to Healthline, “Sumac contains a variety of nutrients and antioxidants that may play a role in lowering blood sugar and alleviating muscle pain.”
Salad Recipes with Chicken
Though admittingly, this recipe is too finger-licking good to save for later, it’s the perfect protein to use for ingredient prep or salads. Once it’s cooled, chop the chicken, save the bones for stock (I keep them in the freezer), and use the chicken for a salad.
After you’ve made your chicken, the options are endless! I’ve used this chicken recipe for cobb salads and dairy-free Caeser salads. This recipe is so flavorful and pairs well with any salad or recipe where chicken is needed. Once it’s cooled, chop the chicken, save the bones for stock (I keep them in the freezer), and use the chicken for a salad.
My favorite way to enjoy this chicken? This baby arugula salad with grains.
For a quick and nutritious salad, toss any vegetables you have in your fridge, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. You can dive into my salad guide for details on how to make a good salad (one you actually crave).
A staple for me is to add the chicken to a bowl of prewashed leafy greens, roasted vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, beets), avocado. It’s Fab Four compliant and ensures I’m hitting all my nutrition marks with protein, fat fiber, and leafy greens.
Gave this marinade a try? How’d the chicken turn out? Let me know in the comments below!
Lemon Herb Chicken Marinade for Roasting (Paleo, Whole30)
Lemon Herb Chicken Marinade
- 4 chicken thighs or breast (1.5 to 1.75 lbs.) bone-in, skin-on
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 6 garlic minced
- handful of parsley chopped
- 1 tbsp sumac
- 2 tsp black peppercorns crushed
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dry thyme
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lemon
For Roasting, Day of (Optional)
- 1 onion sliced, to place under the chicken during roasting
Marinade (Start day before, at least 8 hours)
- Prepare all ingredients under 'Lemon Herb Chicken Marinade.'
- Pat chicken dry and add all ingredients to a large disposable Ziploc bag or reusable silicone storage bag. Make sure the mixture is spread evenly.
- Seal your bag 75%, so there's space for air to travel in and out. Make two fists with your hands and begin to pound the chicken. This can be firm action (not too harsh but not too light). Keep your eyes on the marinade so it doesn't come out the bag.
- Seal the bag completely. Marinate for at least 8 hours in the refridgerator. Overnight is best. The marinade period can last up to 48 hours.
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Take out of the fridge. Let chicken sit for 15 minutes to bring down to room temperature.
- While waiting for the chicken to come to room temperature, slice 1 onion and place onto a small roasting pan (one that's big enough to fit the chicken). Drizzle with olive oil.
- Shake off excess marinade. Place chicken on top of the onions. To prevent the onions from burning, make sure the onions are covered by the chicken.
- Bake at 425°F and set timer for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, Turn the temperature down to 400°F and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or as needed until the internal temperature reaches 165-170°F (or until desired doneness). You can also check if the chicken is done by piercing through the thickest part of the chicken and juices run clear. If you hit the bone, pull back a bit.
- Once done, take the pan out of the oven. Remove the chicken and cover loosely with foil or covering of choice. Let rest for 5 minutes.
- If roasting onions, they will most likely need more time in the oven. To let the onion continue roasting, turn down the temperature to 375°F and let roast for another 10-20 minutes, or until golden-brown.