When I lived in a co-op in college, everything was bought in bulk— rice, flour, oats, sugar, etc. So whenever my cooking partner Honor and I decided to make chicken for our assigned dinner night, we obviously had to get whole chickens. Since they were bought several days in advance, they came frozen, too. Which was fine, except when Honor and I forgot to thaw the chickens overnight in the fridge.
The scene the next afternoon would be this:
Me: Hey, what time do you think we should start cooking tonight?
Honor: Well, dinner’s at seven, the tabbouleh’s already in the fridge, the hummus shouldn’t take too long… how long do you think the chicken will take?
Honor: Oh no.
Me: We forgot to defrost the chicken.
What would then follow was a series of creative defrosting attempts. If we remembered early enough, we’d put the chickens in the fridge. Then, that afternoon, we’d give them a cold water bath while we prepped everything else. Still, the chicken was often not completely thawed by the time we were planning to prep it for roasting. So we went to plan B: shish-kebabs. Honor would take a pair of sturdy kitchen scissors and cut the meat up into cubes, which she then marinated in some sort of lemon-y concoction while I attended to the rest of the dinner.
Whatever Honor made always tasted delicious. So much so, that I started paying attention to what she was putting into the marinade, and then experimenting with it myself— not with shish-kebab’d pieces, but with chicken thighs and tenders. Over the years, as I was only cooking for myself, it became my go-to recipe for baking moist chicken that was full of flavor. The best part is, you can marinate a bunch in advance, and then just pull out the pieces of chicken you want, bake those, and go. I like to eat it plain, but sometimes I also chop it up and serve it with rice, pasta, or over a salad.
Easy Baked Chicken Recipe
- chicken tenders or chicken breast, sliced thin
- olive oil
- lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
- salt & pepper
- choice of herbs: marjoram, thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano, or some combination
Coat bottom of a oven-safe container with olive oil. Rinse chicken and pat dry, then place in the container.
Cover chicken with a combination of lemon juice and olive oil—proportions should be about 2 parts lemon juice to every 1 part olive oil. The key is to make sure the chicken is all covered. Then, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs. Cover and place in fridge for 20 minutes or overnight.
When ready to bake, heat oven to 375 F. Put container, covered, into oven. The juices from the marinade go with the chicken, making it some interesting combination of poached and baked— this keeps it very yummy and moist—and lemon juice gives it a great flavor. Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the thickest piece of chicken is white when you cut through. Drain and serve.
If you’re not planning on baking everything at once, follow the same directions, but make sure you add some liquid each time you bake a portion. Also, don’t worry about using a flat container—go ahead and use some tupperware. Just remember to mix up the chicken before you marinate so each piece gets coated with all the flavors.
I’ve also tried this with balsamic vinegar when I ran out of lemon juice once. Worked great with rosemary.