With this recipe for Cilantro Lime Chicken, bring the bold flavors of your favorite Mexican restaurant straight to your kitchen! Chicken thighs are marinated with garlic, honey, spices, and fresh lime, seared in a cast iron skillet, and served with fresh cilantro. In about an hour, you can have this simple dish ready for any weeknight dinner or Cinco de Mayo celebration with friends!

A skillet is used to cook crispy Cilantro lime chicken.

Honestly, it was quite shocking that it took me this long to get around to making a recipe for Cilantro Lime Chicken. 

After all, this blog has delved deep into the beautiful world of cilantro-lime flavor. From Cilantro Lime Rice, to a Lime Crema Sauce, and even a vinaigrette for Mexican Quinoa Salad, this heavenly pairing never disappoints!

But one night recently, I found myself craving a lighter dish featuring those bright, bold Mexican flavors.

That’s when this chicken thighs recipe came to mind.

When I say chicken thighs, I mean the boneless, skinless variety. No more gently prying the meat off a pesky bone-in thigh, or searing meat to the point of toughness to cook it though. 

By using the boneless variety, we can pound it thin to cook up in a cast-iron skillet, getting a beautifully crispy exterior with a perfectly juicy middle.

And that sweet and tangy citrus marinade will not only give the dish TONS of flavor, but makes the chicken incredibly tender. Once you’ve got this main dish down, there’s a whole plethora of Mexican-inspired sides to serve with it!

Chicken thighs, cilantro, lime, garlic, oil, honey, and seasonings are the ingredients for this recipe.

Ingredients

The simple ingredients you need to make this Cilantro Lime Chicken recipe include:

  • Chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are the best cut. Chicken breasts can also be used, but they won’t be nearly as tender or flavorful. Breasts should also be cooked for a few minutes less per side than thighs.
  • Cilantro. Fresh, finely chopped cilantro is imperative to adding a bright, peppery flavor. Separate the flavorful leaves from the stems, and chop the cilantro before taking the final measurement, for accuracy. 
  • Lime. Fresh lime juice is ideal. Bottled juice will do as well, but will be more acidic with less sweetness, so more sweetener may be required. Lime zest is also used, to give a stronger lime flavor without adding too much acidity.
  • Sweetener. Honey balances out the tartness of the lime juice. It can be subbed with agave nectar, pure maple syrup, or even regular granulated sugar, to taste.
  • Garlic. Fresh minced garlic is always preferred, as the best tasting option. If it’s not available, ⅛ teaspoon of garlic powder can be used in the place of each clove.
  • Oil. Avocado oil is most recommended, but olive oil will do as well.
  • Spices. A touch of cumin and paprika helps to round out the flavors, adding just a bit of spice. If preferred, these can be replaced with Taco Seasoning.

Note: For more information on preparing these ingredients at home, see How to Zest a Lemon and How to Mince Garlic.

How to Make Cilantro Lime Chicken

Tenderize and Trim

Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound the thighs out to roughly the same thickness, no thicker than 1 inch. Whether cooking thighs or breasts, pounding chicken to a uniform thickness ensures quick and even cooking.

If concerned about a mess, an alternative method is to layer each boneless, skinless chicken thigh under a sheet of wax paper. While pounding the chicken, covering it allows the meat to spread easier without raw poultry juices splattering.

Once pounded, the thighs can be trimmed with a knife of any excess fat. A little bit is alright, but any large chunks should be taken off prior to marinating.

Juice and Whisk

After zesting your limes, cut each one into halves and squeeze 3 tablespoons of fresh juice from them. Using a handheld citrus juicer is recommended, as it’s the easiest way to get the most juice out of each one. 

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, honey, lime juice, lime zest, salt, and other spices, omitting the cilantro for now. The rest of the marinade should be mixed before adding it in, to ensure even mixing while protecting the delicate herb.

Chop and Mix

Prior to chopping, gently rinse the cilantro under cool water and remove the leaves from the stems. While the leaves are flavorful, the stems are less flavorful, are chewy, and make for an unpleasant texture.

Using a sharp knife, carefully chop the leaves up finely. Be sure to measure the proper amount AFTER chopping to ensure the most accurate measurement.

Add the chopped cilantro to the whisked marinade and mix well.

Marinate the Chicken

In a large bowl, place the pounded chicken thighs and pour the marinade on top. Gently stir the chicken around until it’s evenly coated.

Cover the bowl with cling film, and place the marinating chicken in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight. 

If marinating a short amount of time, flip the chicken over once to ensure consistency. If overnight, flip it every couple of hours.

Be careful not to let it marinate for more than 12 hours before cooking. This could make the chicken develop an unpleasant, mealy texture from prolonged exposure to the acid.

Chicken thighs are mixed into the marinade.

Sear in Skillet

Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. No oil will be needed in the pan, on account of the marinade still clinging to the chicken. 

Allow the excess marinade to drip off of the chicken pieces before adding them to the pan in a single layer. It’s alright if they touch at the beginning, as they will shrink while cooking.

Cover the skillet with a lid and let the chicken cook, untouched, for 7-8 minutes. This allows a nice crust to form, without all of the juices evaporating.

Remove the lid, flip the chicken pieces, and continue cooking for another 7-8 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 165-170°F is reached. If unsure on when they’re done, use a meat thermometer to gauge the temperature at the thickest middle portion.

Allow the chicken to sit and rest for about 5 minutes before cutting so you don’t lose any of those delicious juices. Serve, and enjoy!

Meal Prep and Storage

  • To Prep-Ahead: The chicken can be marinated up to 12 hours ahead of time, but no longer, at the risk of getting a mealy texture.
  • To Store: If cooked fresh, cilantro lime chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
  • To Freeze: Leftovers can be stored in a freezer-safe, airtight container or bag for up to 3-4 months. 
  • To Reheat: The chicken can be reheated in a covered skillet over medium heat, with a small amount of water or chicken stock to prevent drying. You can also use this method to gently bake it in the oven until warmed through.

Dietary Modifications

The recipe you’ll find below is already gluten-free, dairy-free, and low-carb as written. Here are some adjustments and substitutions you can make to help it fit your other dietary requirements:

  • Keto / Whole30: Omit the honey in the marinade or substitute with a non-nutritive sweetener, but be aware that the taste will be affected.
  • Refined Sugar-Free: Replace the honey with an unrefined sugar, such as a more nutrient-dense raw honey, or pure maple syrup.
Quick and easy cilantro lime chicken is served on a white plate on the counter.

FAQs

What does lime juice do to chicken?

Marinating chicken in any citrus juice helps to tenderize it and infuse it with flavor prior to cooking. This helps it remain juicy and delicious, even when using cuts like chicken breast, which tend to dry out.

How long can chicken marinate in citrus?

With most citrus-based marinades, chicken should only be left to marinate for a maximum of 12 hours. Any longer, and the meat runs the risk of turning mealy and unpleasant.

Can I use bottled citrus juice for marinade?

While you can use prepackaged citrus juice for marinades, it isn’t recommended for dishes where the citrus serves as the primary flavoring. Fresh citrus juice is slightly sweeter, whereas bottled juices can be overly acidic and sour.

Is cilantro lime chicken healthy?

Low in fat, calories, and carbohydrates, this dish can be very healthy when served with the right side dishes. Consider serving it with cauliflower rice or vegetable-based sides for an extra boost of nutrition.

Expert Tips and Tricks

  • Keep it fresh. Whenever possible, avoid using prepackaged or old versions of items like lime juice, garlic, or cilantro. 
  • Watch the temperature. If you can’t tell when the chicken is cooked through, sticking a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh can help.
  • Get a juicer. Using a handheld citrus juicer is the easiest and most effective way to get the most out of every lime.
  • Marinate carefully. As an alternative, place the chicken in sealed, double-layered zip-top bags as it marinates, to prevent contamination from leaking.
  • Garnish well. Consider serving this chicken with fresh lime wedges, cilantro, salsa, or even extra marinade doubling as sauce.
  • Try different methods. While skillet cooking is recommended, this dish can also turn out amazing baked in the oven or on the grill grates.
Cilantro lime chicken is served for Cinco de Mayo dinner.

Make it a Meal

Amazing as this chicken is, that restaurant experience simply isn’t complete without it accompanying some of these easy Mexican-inspired side dishes:

More Chicken Recipes

Make the most out of this simple, versatile protein by trying out even more of these flavor-packed poultry dishes:

Tap stars to rate!

5 from 2 votes

Cilantro Lime Chicken Thighs Recipe

With this recipe for Cilantro Lime Chicken, bring the bold flavors of your favorite Mexican restaurant straight to your kitchen! Chicken thighs are marinated with garlic, honey, spices, and fresh lime, fried in a cast iron skillet, and served with fresh cilantro.
Yield 6 servings
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Total 55 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 ½ lbs. chicken thighs boneless and skinless
  • 2 Tbsp. oil avocado
  • 4 cloves garlic finely minced
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • 3 Tbsp. lime juice from 2 limes
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish*
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper

Instructions 

  • Pound chicken thighs with a meat mallet until no thicker than 1-inch. Carefully trim any excess fat.
  • Whisk together the oil, garlic, cumin, paprika, lime juice, lime zest, honey, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl. Toss in the cilantro and whisk until combined.
  • Add the chicken and marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator or up to overnight. Flip the chicken halfway through marinating if less than an hour, and a few times if overnight.
  • Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Let excess marinade drip off chicken before adding it to the skillet. Place the chicken in a single layer, trying not to let them overlap. (The chicken will shrink down significantly while cooking, so it’s OK if they touch a little at the beginning!)
  • Cover the skillet with a lid and cook for 7-8 minutes, flip the thighs over, and continue cooking, uncovered, for another 7-8 minutes. You’ll know the chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
  • Serve immediately with additional fresh cilantro and enjoy!

Tap stars to rate!

5 from 2 votes

Video

Notes

*Be sure to measure the cilantro AFTER chopping.

Meal Prep and Storage

  • To Prep-Ahead: The chicken can be marinated up to 12 hours ahead, but no longer, at the risk of turning tough.
  • To Store: If cooked fresh, cilantro lime chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
  • To Freeze: Leftovers can be stored in a freezer-safe, airtight container or bag for up to 3-4 months.
  • To Reheat: Leftovers can be reheated in a covered skillet over medium heat, with a small amount of water or chicken stock to prevent drying. You can also use this method to gently bake them in the oven until warmed through.

Nutrition

Calories: 194kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 22g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 108mg, Sodium: 341mg, Potassium: 311mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 139IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 21mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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