These easy chicken fajitas are a sizzling hot Mexican meal cooked fast in a skillet. Lean white meat chicken breast is infused with a cilantro lime marinade for maximum flavor. The meat, bell peppers, and onions are all seared for extra tender bites.
One of the easiest and healthiest Mexican foods to make is chicken fajitas. It’s a beautiful sight to see when the chicken and vegetables hit a sizzling hot pan and an aromatic smoke rises. This recipe infuses a cilantro lime marinade into the chicken before cooking to give a fast flavor boost.
The marination process is quick, only 15 minutes is needed for game-changing results. It turns a bland piece of chicken into fresh and citrusy flavored slices. Thickly sliced pieces of bell pepper and onions are seared in the same pan for the ultimate one-pot meal. The vegetables are sauteed briefly so that the edges get a nice char, but the flesh stays juicy and crispy.
How to make chicken fajitas
- Combine lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, soy sauce, and spices in a large bowl.
- Reserve ¼ of the marinade.
- Marinate the chicken in the cilantro lime marinade for 15 minutes.
- Cook the chicken in a hot cast iron skillet until cooked through, about 6 minutes.
- Remove the chicken and cut into slices.
- Saute the onions and bell peppers until crisp-tender.
- Add the chicken and reserved marinade, cook until warm.
- Serve chicken fajitas with tortillas.
How do you make a chicken fajita marinade?
The chicken marinade is a combination of lime juice/zest, olive oil cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, soy sauce, salt, cumin, paprika, and pepper. The citrus provides a fruity acidity which helps to tenderize the meat. The zest contains essential oils which combined with oil infuses more lime flavor into the chicken.
The soy sauce brings a deep savory intensity, without overpowering the marinade. The cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, and seasonings and freshness add an earthy taste. Sweet paprika can be substituted with smoked paprika a grilled taste. If you want a spicier marinade, add in some chipotle pepper, cayenne pepper, or chili powder.
How long do you marinate the chicken?
It only takes 15 minutes to marinate the chicken for this recipe. Leaving the meat in the acidic marinade for too long will cause it to become mushy in texture. The acid could also start to cook the proteins and turn it white in color, similar to the process of making ceviche.
How do you cook the chicken?
The chicken is seared in a hot cast iron pan until the internal temperature reaches about 160ºF (71ºC), about 6 minutes. If using thicker pieces, more time will be needed. However, I recommended buying thinly sliced chicken or butterflying the breast in half. This ensures that the chicken will cook quickly and stay tender and juicy.
The chicken can also be grilled, and vegetables cooked in a foil packet alongside the meat. I prefer using a cast iron because the cookware material can withstand high temperatures better and provides a nice smoky sear. Stainless steel pans with work as well, just don’t go over medium-high heat.
What vegetables do you add?
Sliced bell peppers and onions are commonly used for fajitas. They both give a delightful crunch to the dish, so shouldn’t be overcooked. I like to select a colorful variety of bell peppers, like red, green, yellow, and even orange if available. Bell peppers are not spicy, but I’ve noticed the yellow and orange kind taste sweeter, while red and green have more of a standard pepper flavor, but without the heat.
I use white onions because they have a good balance of sulfurous and savory notes, but other types of onions can be used. The onions get a nice caramelized char in the hot pan that makes the dish even better. Make sure to cut the vegetables into similar thickness for even and quick cooking, about ¼-inch wide slices.
What to serve this with
- Warmed tortillas heated in a pan or directly on an open flame until lightly charred.
- Lime wedges
- Pico de gallo or salsa
- Sour cream or crema
- Shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
More Mexican recipes
Only marinate the chicken for a short time
It’s tempting to marinate the chicken for a long period, but only 15 minutes is needed to maximize the taste. The lime juice provides an acid which helps to tenderize the meat, but only if applied for a short time. Left on too long, the proteins in the chicken react with the acids which reduce its pH. This process causes the proteins to pack together and squeeze out the internal moisture resulting in tough dry meat.
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- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
- ⅓ cup lime juice
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno, stem and seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ cups sliced white onion, ¼-inch thick
- 3 cups sliced bell pepper, ¼-inch thick, red, green and yellow peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 8 tortillas, flour or corn, 6-inches in size
- For chicken breasts thicker than ½-inch, cut them in half using a chef’s knife across the center, this will yield a total of four thinly sliced pieces.
- In a mixing bowl whisk together lime juice, olive oil, chopped cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, soy sauce, lime zest, salt, cumin, paprika, and black pepper. Reserve ¼ cup of the marinade.
- Place the chicken in the marinade, turning to coat. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes, flipping over halfway through. Do not marinate the chicken over 15 to 20 minutes or the meat will become dry and mushy in texture.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Shake off the excess marinade from the chicken, making sure there's no garlic sticking to the meat. Sear without moving for 3 minutes. Flip and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 3 to 5 minutes, turn off the heat.
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and slice into ½-inch thick pieces.
- Turn heat to medium-high and add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add the onions and bell peppers, saute until vegetables are crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the sliced chicken and ¼ cup reserved marinade to the pan. Stir to combine, cook until meat is warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper as desired.
- Serve with warmed tortillas.
- Serving Size: 1 tortilla plus chicken fajita filling.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE AND WHOLE 30: Use gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.
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