Chicken with Lime, Garlic and Cilantro

Chicken with lime, garlic and (optionally) cilantro is one of our favorite — and easiest — dishes. The acid in the citrus balances out the chicken and creates a tart sauce right in the pan. 

In the 1970s, the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I grew up was a true melting pot of cultures. I went to a bilingual grade school where classes were taught in both English and Spanish, and staying for dinner at a friend’s house often meant getting to have Arroz Con Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice with Pigeon Peas) or Mofongo (mashed green plantains with chicharrones).

My absolute favorite dish back then was Pernil (Roasted Pork Shoulder), which is flavored with lots of citrus, cumin and cilantro. Just thinking about it is making me hungry, but until I find the time to make a whole pork shoulder, I thought I’d take some of those great flavors and turn it into a much more weekday-friendly chicken dinner.

Chicken with Lime, Garlic and Cilantro

Garlic, cilantro, lime and cumin make the sauce bright and tangy.

Chicken with Lime, Garlic and Cilantro

Cilantro: Love it? Hate it?

So let’s talk about cilantro, shall we? (Or coriander, depending on where you’re from). Has ever there been a herb so divisive (since the one that accompanied Kiki)? Some people (like me, and thankfully, Matt) love it. And others … not so much. In fact, some people (including my father) HATE IT WITH THE POWER OF A THOUSAND SUNS. A THOUSAND SUNS.

It turns out that there might be an actual genetic reason why that is. Not to get all sciencey on you or anything but there’s a cluster of olfactory-receptor genes — part of the genome which influences sense of smell, and in that cluster is a gene called OR6A2. Variations of that gene can make some people sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that contribute to cilantro’s flavor.

Short version: basically there’s a thingie in your nose that makes cilantro taste either delicious and fresh, or like hell in the form of a putrid bar of soap.

If you happen to be in the latter category (you probably aren’t looking at this recipe) you can substitute basil. The flavor will obviously be quite different but it would still be tasty.

Nerd Tips

  • Julia Child was wrong, don’t wash your chicken! Just use a clean cutting board, dry it well on paper towels, and cook it to the proper temperature (165º F / 74º C).
  • Take the chicken out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you plan to cook it. It will cook more evenly (this is true for any meat).
  • A cast iron pan is perfect for this recipe because it browns beautifully and goes in the oven. Just make sure it’s well seasoned.
  • Chicken cooked on the bone has more flavor than boneless (and the crispy skin is delicious) but you could substitute skinless, boneless breasts or thighs. If using breasts, be careful not to overcook them or they’ll be dry.
  • For a gluten free version, just leave out the flour. The sauce won’t be quite as thick but the flavor will be identical.

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Chicken with Lime, Garlic and Cilantro
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4-6 servings
  • 6-8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (about 1½- 2 lbs or .7kg)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse kosher salt (to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1½ tablespoons flour (20g)
  • 1 cup dry white wine (250ml)
  • 1½ tablespoons honey (30g)
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 1½ limes)
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest, finely grated (from 1½ limes)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (475 ml)
  • 4 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 4-5 tablespoons cilantro, stems removed, chopped; more for garnish (about 1 large bunch)
  • 1 lime, sliced, for garnish
  1. Preheat your oven to 375º F / 190º C
  2. Pat the chicken thighs dry, and season each thigh on both sides with cumin, salt and pepper.
  3. Pre-heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven on medium-high for a minute or so and then add the oil. Add the thighs, skin-side down and cook until deeply browned (5-7 minutes). Don’t crowd the pan, work in batches if necessary. Turn and brown other side (3-5 minutes). Remove thighs to a plate and set them aside,
  4. Lower the heat and if there’s a lot of oil, remove most of it, leaving about a tablespoon and a half. Add flour, garlic and sliced white scallion bottoms. Stir well to coat the flour in oil and cook for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the wine and let it simmer for 3 minutes while scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the broth, honey, lime juice, lime zest and half the cilantro and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, skin-side up and place it, uncovered, into the oven. Cook for 35-40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through (165º F / 74º C on an instant read thermometer). Garnish with sliced limes, the remaining cilantro and green scallion tops.
  5. Serve with rice, potatoes or lots of crusty bread for sopping up the sauce.