Senegalese-Style Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Onions

A Senegalese classic, lemon-lashed chicken yassa is an onion lover’s dish. The chicken can be broiled instead of grilled if necessary, but the results are not anywhere near as good—or traditional. The chicken should marinate overnight. This dish is best when simply served with white rice.–Stanley, Evan, Mark and David Lobel

Senegalese-Style Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Onions Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 50 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 3 to 4


  • One 4-pound chicken, back removed and reserved for another use, chicken cut into 6 pieces: 2 whole legs, 2 bone-in breasts with drumette attached, and 2 wings
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 medium onions (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise and sliced (about 10 cups)
  • 1 fresh habañero chile, halved lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed (use gloves to prevent getting any caustic oils on your hands – or in your eyes)
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


  • 1. Rub the chicken parts thoroughly with the ginger. Salt the pieces on both sides with 1 generous tablespoon salt and season both sides generously with black pepper. Place 1/4 of the onions in a double-lined large resealable bag and top with 1/2 of the chicken pieces. Add one habañero half, a bay leaf and top with another 1/4 of the onions. Pour half of the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the oil into the bag. Seal the bag and then gently shake to distribute the lemon and oil, keeping the chicken buried in the onions. Repeat with another double-lined resealable plastic bag and the remaining ingredients. Marinate chicken overnight in the refrigerator.
  • 2. Remove chicken from the marinade and let come to room temperature, covered. Remove and reserve habañero halves. Meanwhile, empty marinade ingredients into a large colander set over a large bowl, pressing on the onions to release excess liquid and set aside.
  • 3. Build a moderately hot charcoal fire, or preheat a gas grill to medium, and blot chicken dry; sprinkle the chicken lightly with salt. Grill chicken until deep golden brown and charred in spots, for 4 to 6 minutes per side (the goal is to brown the chicken and impart the smoky taste of the grill; the meat should remain mostly raw inside). Remove the chicken to a plate and reserve, loosely covered with aluminum foil.
  • 4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy pot over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, carefully add the drained onions and bay leaves in the colander (they’ll sizzle and steam), reserving the marinade. Cook, stirring occasionally, until excess moisture evaporates and some of the onions begin to turn golden at the edges, 10 to 15 minutes, reducing the heat if they threaten to burn (don’t let them brown or soften too much; they should be wilted somewhat but still crisp).
  • 5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the stock, sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, the reserved marinade, and the reserved habañero halves. When the onions are as spicy as you like, remove the chiles and reserve; they can be chopped up by those diners who’d like to spice up their servings. Stir in any juices beneath the reserved chicken and nestle chicken legs and wings into the onions. Cover, and bring just to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the chicken breasts (and any juices) to the pot; cover and simmer until the breasts are just cooked through (about 150°F internally), 15 to 25 minutes more.
  • 6. Remove the chicken to a cutting board designed to catch the juices and tent loosely with foil. Boil the onion mixture for up to 10 minutes to concentrate its flavors, adding any juices on the cutting board (the cooking liquid should be rich and lemony with a consistency somewhere between a broth and sauce). Meanwhile, cut the chicken into serving-size pieces and divide among warmed serving plates. Spoon a generous amount of onions and sauce over each and serve, garnished with chopped habañero pieces, if you like.
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