Delicious chicken fajitas marinated in a cilantro lime sauce and served with sizzling hot bell peppers and onions. A healthy Mexican meal that’s easy to make!
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When a piping hot skillet of chicken fajitas hits the table, it’s a beautiful sight to see and smell. For this recipe, I use a quick and easy cilantro lime marinade to infuse into the meat before cooking to boost a fast flavor. It turns bland pieces of lean chicken into fresh citrusy flavored slices.
For convenience, thick slices of bell pepper and onions cook in the same pan as the chicken. The vegetables saute briefly so that the edges get a nice char, but the flesh stays juicy and crispy. Serve with my homemade corn or flour tortillas, and you’re all set!
For a lean choice of protein, I use boneless skinless chicken breast—slice large pieces over 1-inch thick in half into two cutlets for even cooking. You can also purchase thinly sliced pieces or use a meat tenderizer to pound them to ½-inch thickness.
Alternatively, you can use chicken thighs if desired, but they tend to have more fat still connected. I would trim that off so the dish doesn’t become too greasy.
Chicken marinade ingredients
The chicken marinade combines citrus juice, fresh herbs, peppers, spices, and savory seasonings. Be sure to reserve some to drizzle on top right before serving. Lime juice provides a fruity acidity which helps to tenderize the meat. The zest contains essential oils, which infuse more lime flavor into the chicken when combined with olive oil.
The secret ingredient in the recipe is soy sauce, which enhances the umami taste of the chicken without overpowering the marinade. I also add sweet paprika, but you can substitute it with smoked paprika for a grilled taste. Add chipotle pepper, cayenne pepper, or chili powder to make the marinade spicier.
It only takes 15 minutes to marinate the chicken for this fajita recipe. Leaving the meat in the acidic marinade for too long will cause it to become mushy. The acid could also start to cook the proteins and turn them white, similar to making ceviche.
Do not leave the chicken in the marinade for longer than 20 minutes! All you need is a quick dip in the sauce to flavor the surface.
I prefer to use a large heavy-bottomed pan like a cast iron skillet for stunning sear marks on the chicken and vegetables. This material retains heat well and is very effective for quick cooking. Stainless steel pans will work; just don’t go over medium-high heat.
Add a colorful mix of vegetables
Similar to my steak fajitas, I use sliced bell peppers and onions. They both give a delightful crunch to the dish, so don’t overcook them. I like to use a variety of bell peppers, like red, green, yellow, and even orange, for earthy and sweet notes.
White onions have a good balance of sulfurous and savory notes, but you can use other types of onions. In the hot skillet, they caramelize and char, adding more flavor to the dish. Make sure to cut them into similar thickness for even cooking, about ¼-inch wide slices.
How to make chicken fajitas
Cook the chicken first to about 160ºF (71ºC) and brown the surface, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer it to a cutting board and slice it against the grain into thin strips for the most tender bites. Saute the sliced onions and bell peppers until crisp-tender. Don’t overcook! Stir the chicken pieces in to warm them up, then add the reserved marinade to boost flavor.
On warm sunny days, I like to use grilled chicken. It’s also easy to cook the vegetables in a foil packet alongside the meat.
Serve this with
- Wraps like corn tortillas or cassava tortillas
- Toppings like sour cream, pico de gallo, or guacamole
- A side of Mexican rice
- Refried Beans or pinto beans
Fajitas are flavorful on their own, but toppings can further the experience. Creamy sour cream, creme, or guacamole. Shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, pungent cotija, or mild queso fresco. Salsas like pico de gallo, pineapple, or mango. Tangy pickled onions or jalapeno peppers.
The marinated chicken breasts cook first on the stovetop or grill for the juiciest pieces, then cut into strips. The raw poultry can be cut into strips against the grain, then sauteed with vegetables like a stir-fry for quicker cooking.
Instead of a marinade, you can use fajita seasoning or taco seasoning to flavor the chicken. Be careful as many blends contain paprika which is sensitive to high heat. Some store-bought blends also contain flour for thickening, and you may have to add water after cooking to thicken the sauce.
Only marinate the chicken for a short time
It’s tempting to marinate the chicken for an extended period, but only 15 minutes is needed to maximize the taste. The lime juice contains citric acid, which helps to tenderize the meat, but if left on too long, the proteins in the chicken react with the acids, which reduces 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 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- ⅓ cup lime juice
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno, stem & 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 white onion, ¼” slices
- 3 cups bell pepper, ¼” slices
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 8 tortillas, flour or corn, 6” in size
- Prepare the Chicken – For chicken breasts thicker than ½-inch, cut them into thinner cutlets. Use a chef’s knife to cut them in half horizontally to yield four thinly sliced pieces.
- Make the Marinade – In a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, ⅓ cup olive oil, chopped cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, soy sauce, lime zest, salt, cumin, paprika, and black pepper—reserve ¼ cup of the marinade.
- Marinate the Chicken – Place the meat in the marinade, turning to coat. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes, flipping over halfway through. Do not marinate over 15 to 20 minutes, or the texture will become dry and mushy.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Shake off excess marinade, 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, then turn off the heat.
- Slice the Meat – Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and slice it into ½-inch thick pieces. Cover with foil to keep warm.
- Cook the Vegetables – Use the same pan to cook the chicken. Turn the 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.
- Finishing the Dish – Add the sliced chicken and ¼ cup of the reserved marinade to the pan. Stir to combine, cook until meat is warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
- To Serve – Serve immediately while still hot, along with warmed tortillas and toppings if desired.
- 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. Enjoy with cassava flour tortillas.
- Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Reheat: Cover and reheat in the microwave on the high setting in 30-second intervals until hot.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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