One of my favorite easy ways to liven up chicken is to use a flavorful marinade. A handful of fresh herbs plus garlic, oil, and citrus juice transform a plain piece of chicken into something spectacular and delicious. This Mexican Chicken Marinade will become a staple as quickly in your kitchen as it has in mine. Meal prep should be easy, and this marinade makes it so.
A couple of years ago I suddenly had a huge area of my garden full of cilantro. The summer before I had planted a cilantro plant that went to seed. It's a good thing no one in my family is anti-cilantro. Cilantro seems to be a love or hate herb. To some people, it tastes soapy. To others, it's fresh and flavorful. We love to use it as a garnish for Mexican food, in dips, and with chicken.
- Fresh Garlic cloves - If you only have garlic powder, you could use about one tablespoon. I recommend using fresh whenever you can. You don't even need to mince it, because we are putting it in a food processor.
- Fresh lime juice - You will need about one fresh lime. If you don't have fresh limes, you can use store-bought lime juice.
- Cilantro - I love the smell of freshly chopped cilantro. We try to keep this growing in our herb garden. You can find this and many other fresh herbs at your grocery store.
- Avocado oil - You can use olive oil or even vegetable oil if that is all you have. I like grilling with avocado oil, it has a higher smoke temperature than olive oil.
- Salt - Taste this as you go to ensure that you have the right amount of seasoning in the marinade.
How to make Mexican chicken marinade
Step one: Collect the ingredients and put them into a blender or food processor. Blend it for a few seconds.
Step two: Place chicken in either a large resealable plastic bag or container or bowl with a lid. Pour marinade over the chicken and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
Step three: Cook the chicken. Chicken marinated in this cilantro lime marinade works well on an outdoor grill, on a grill pan in the kitchen. If you are cooking indoors, you can cook these on a griddle, pan-sear them in a skillet, or pop them in your air fryer or instant pot. You can also make kabobs with this chicken.
If your plan is to make grilled chicken. Get your grill preheated on medium heat or medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade letting any excess marinade drip off of it, then place it on the grill. Using a meat thermometer, cook them until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Enjoy!
What to do with the Cilantro Lime Chicken
This really is the best Mexican chicken marinade because of its versatility. You can use this chicken in cold wraps, hot chicken tacos, or chicken fajitas. Combine them with black beans and make them into a burrito. A fresh tomatoes salsa or pico de Gallo along with some shredded cheddar cheese and avocado or guacamole are great toppings for a fresh salad. There are several different ways to serve it.
If you have leftover cilantro lime chicken, you can put it on top of a salad, make a chicken salad from it, or in our house, we have a few kids that love quesadillas. We will chop up the leftover chicken along with some sweet peppers and cheese and make a few quesadillas. Or just serve it along with some cheesy cauliflower rice.
Variations on Mexican Chicken Marinade
You can take this simple Mexican Chicken Marinade recipe and swap out the type of citrus juice and which fresh herbs you use.
lemon juice + thyme + pork chops
orange juice + basil + chicken breast
lime juice + parsley + steak
lemon juice + rosemary + lamb
orange juice + chives + chicken thighs
The combinations are endless. Just keep the same ratio of oil to acid and almost any combination can work. Using garlic is a must in my opinion. But if you'd prefer to use chopped onion or shallots go for it. If you want to have some spice and little heat, try a combination of cumin, paprika, and chili powder. The key is finding your favorite flavor profile.
Or go for an Asian flair and marinate chicken in Keto Teriyaki Sauce.
Chicken Tenderloins vs Chicken Breasts vs Chicken Thighs
Trying to feed my large family on a budget means that I buy things in bulk when they go on sale. Whenever I find chicken tenderloins cheap I buy all of them. They are sized perfectly for small children and are harder to overcook than a large chicken breast.
The tenderloin is not just the larger chicken breast cut into pieces. It is a smaller piece that is behind the breast. It lives up to its name and really is more tender. They tend to be a little more expensive than chicken breasts but don't require any extra effort cutting off fat or pounding to make them cook evenly.
You can also go with boneless skinless chicken thighs. I like thighs, they can be a bit very juicy and tender. You may have to trim a little fat off of them, but they are also a very versatile piece of chicken that you can use in many different applications.
Other Chicken Tenders Recipes
When I stock up on chicken tenderloins I like to freeze them in a marinade to save on prep time later on. Just put some tenderloins into a zip-top bag and pour in the Cilantro Lime Chicken Marinade. Pop it into the freezer and when you are pressed for time just thaw and cook.
I also use chicken tenderloins in my Stuffed Chicken with Asparagus & Bacon, Tuscan Chicken Casserole, Five Minute Garlic Parmesan Chicken Tenders, and Bacon Wrapped Chicken Tenders with Ranch Dip. I know you will enjoy these wonderful dishes!
Want to try these flavors on shrimp? Try these Grilled Cilantro Lime Shrimp Skewers!
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice about 1 lime
- ½ cup fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Combine all ingredients in a small blender or food processor and process until smooth. Use to marinate 1 pound of chicken.
- Pour marinade over chicken in a bowl or zip lock bag and let marinate for at least 1 hour. This can also marinade overnight.