Make Perfect Roasted Chicken Breasts With Lemon, Garlic, and Rosemary
How many times have you found yourself standing and staring into the refrigerator wondering how to come up with a quick, but tasty weeknight dinner? If you’re like me, you’ve probably always got some chicken on hand, but it always seems a bit boring, or else it’s part of a dish that’s quite involved or will dirty a lot of dishes. This doesn’t need to be the case, and you can elevate the lowly chicken breast that’s camping out in your fridge to something that’s not only incredibly tasty, but will only dirty one dish and take all of five minutes of preparation, making it the perfect weeknight meal.
Chicken is a versatile protein, but let’s be honest. It doesn’t always have the most flavor and it’s easy to dry out. There are plenty of different ways to really make chicken flavorful by using marinades, spice rubs, grilling, or frying, but what if you didn’t plan ahead and you come home after a long day at work with nothing but a package of bone-in chicken breasts and don’t have the time or energy to spend it in the kitchen making dinner? No need to worry. If you’ve simply got an onion, a lemon, a little rosemary, garlic, and five minutes to prepare the dish, you’ve got everything you need to make something special.
- 2-4 bone-in chicken breasts
- 1 medium onion
- 1 lemon
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2-4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt and black pepper
One thing I hate about a lot of chicken recipes is the multitude of steps that require going back and forth between chicken and preparing other ingredients, meaning an excessive amount of hand washing. There’s none of that here. We will be preparing all of the ingredients ahead of time so you’ll only need to touch the chicken once, toss it into the oven, and wash your hands at the end. So, get that oven pre-heating to 425 for starters.
Next, we will tackle the onion, lemon, and garlic. This is incredibly simple prep as we’re just doing some rough knife work. Take a lemon and cut off roughly a quarter off of one end. Set this aside as we’ll use what little bit of juice is in there at the end. Then simply slice the lemon into about five or six thin rings.
We’re now going to do basically the same thing to the onion. Cut off both ends and remove the paper. Then slice the onion so that you have about five or six circular discs. You can toss the ends in this case since we won’t be using them.
Now take the garlic cloves and give them a hefty smash with your knife and remove as much of the paper as you can. You don’t need to chop or mince the garlic here since we only need to have it crushed a bit so it releases its flavor and aroma.
It’s now time to make a bed for your chicken. Depending on how large or how many breasts you’re cooking, you may be able to get away with just one 13″x9″ rectangle baking dish, or you may need to use two, or opt for a large baking sheet. Whatever you have is fine. All you need to do here is take the slices of lemon and onion and alternate them along the bottom of the pan, creating an even bed for the chicken to rest on. After you’ve got your onion and lemon laid out, take your smashed cloves of garlic and evenly distribute them on top. Finally, take a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and lay those on top of everything so that you have something similar to what you see below.
That’s pretty much it for the prep work and it shouldn’t have taken more than a couple of minutes. Now all we’ve got to do is season the chicken and get it in the pan. So, take your chicken and give it a good rinse. When rinsed, dry it thoroughly with paper towel. This step is very important. One of the secrets to that amazing bronze and crispy skin is to make sure it’s as dry as possible before heading into the oven. So, pat it dry, and then pat it dry again.
Take your dried chicken breasts and lay them bone side down on the bed of onion, lemon, garlic, and rosemary you assembled a few minutes ago. Next, lightly brush the skin side with olive oil. You just need a thin coating here since all we’re doing is giving the salt and pepper something to stick to while providing a hint of flavor and enhancing the browning of the skin. Once coated oil go ahead and give each breast a liberal dose of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
How easy was that? It took about two or three minutes to prepare the ingredients, and maybe another two or three minutes to rinse, dry, and season the chicken, and then it’s into the oven. So toss the dish into a 425 degree oven on a middle rack and you’ve now got 40-45 minutes of free time while dinner cooks. I can’t give you an exact time because there are simply too many variables involved such as how your oven cooks, the size of the breasts, and so on. In my oven, using fairly large chicken breasts, I find it takes closer to 45 minutes to reach 162 degrees (I pull at around 162 since carryover cooking will bring the meat to 165 or beyond), but I’ve had small breasts finish in around 30 minutes. So, plan on about 45 minutes of cooking time, but give yourself 15 minutes on either side of that target depending on your situation.
So, use what you know about cooking chicken in your oven to guide you, or better yet, use a meat thermometer. I really can’t stress the use of a thermometer enough. If you do any amount of cooking at home it’s an invaluable tool. A good thermometer will be a bit of an investment, but it will improve your meat cooking more than any recipe can. No more dried out chicken, no risking your health because of underdone meat, and you’ll get perfectly cooked steaks every time. I use a Thermapen, but there are plenty of options available. But I can say that getting a thermometer was one of the best kitchen investments I’ve made because it takes out all of the guesswork whenever temperatures are concerned.
When your chicken is done (internal temperature of 160-165), pull it from the oven and let it rest for five to ten minutes to allow it to continue cooking and for the juices to redistribute. You can use this time to address any vegetables or side dishes you plan to serve with the chicken. Since this chicken is prepared relatively lightly, I try to keep it a light meal by serving it with some fresh broccoli or asparagus, and a few small roasted red potato halves or quarters, which can be cooked right in the baking dish with the chicken. Note: If you do the potatoes this way, they take on a lot of the the fantastic lemon and onion flavors. Just toss lightly in a bowl with a little olive oil to coat and they are wonderful.
Remember that quarter of a lemon we saved at the beginning? Once the chicken has rested and just before you serve, you’ll want to take that piece of lemon and squeeze a little bit of juice over each breast. It may not seem like much, but this little bit of acidity makes the flavors in the chicken really pop. Acid is a key component in creating a balanced dish, but it’s one of the most underused tools in the home kitchen. If you want to do a little experiment, go ahead and try a bite of the chicken without the lemon first. It will be delicious and have a salty richness with a touch of rosemary in the background, which is good, but it will still seem like it could use a little help. Now squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the chicken and take another bite. It’s a totally different bite. You get all of the flavors you had before, but the brightness of the acid brings everything together and you end up with a far more robust and satisfying bite.
So, how easy was that? Even after coming home from work late on a Tuesday night, you could spend just five minutes roughly cutting lemon, onion, and garlic, and then toss the chicken into a baking dish. Then 45 minutes later you’ve got a great tasting meal on the table. And what’s better than being easy? It’s dirt cheap. I picked up these two bone-in chicken breasts for $1.19/lb, and at 2.5 total pounds that’s just $3. Add a 50 cent lemon and use potatoes, onion, garlic, and rosemary that are already in the pantry, add a vegetable, and I’ve got a delicious restaurant quality meal for two for under five dollars.