Senegalese-Style Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Onions

Plate of Senegalese grilled chicken legs and thighs cooked with onions and lemon, rice on the side

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 as traditional. The chicken should marinate overnight. This dish is best when simply served with white rice.–Stanley, Evan, Mark and David Lobel

LC Lemon Chicken Note

Ask any experienced editor for a food magazine or a producer for a food website and they’ll confirm that readers just can’t seem to get enough lemon chicken recipes. There’s something almost hypnotic about the melding of lemon and chicken that appeases the masses. We find that there’s something even more lyrical about the lure of lemon, chicken, caramelized onions, and the heat of the grill. Don’t believe us? Taste for yourself.

Senegalese-Style Grilled Chicken

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 50 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 3 to 4
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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 large resealable plastic bag and top with 1/2 of the chicken pieces. Top with 1/2 habañero, a bay leaf, and another 1/4 of the onions. Pour half the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons 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 a second resealable plastic bag and the remaining ingredients. Marinate the chicken overnight in the refrigerator.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, place it on plates, and let it come to room temperature, covered. Meanwhile, remove and reserve the habañero halves from the plastic bags. Empty the remaining marinade ingredients into a large colander set over a large bowl, pressing on the onions to release any excess liquid.
Build a moderately hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium. Blot the chicken dry and sprinkle it lightly with salt. Grill the chicken until the skin is a deep golden brown and charred in spots but mostly raw inside, 4 to 6 minutes per side. (The goal is simply to brown the chicken and impart the smoky taste of the grill.) Transfer the chicken to a clean plate and loosely loosely cover with aluminum foil.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, carefully add the drained onions and bay leaves from the colander, reserving the marinade. The onions will hiss and sputter when you first add them to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the 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.)
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 taste as spicy as you like, remove the chiles. If desired, the chiles can be chopped and passed at the table for those diners who’d like to spice up their chicken. Pour any juices that have accumulated on the plate with the chicken into the pot. Nestle the chicken legs and wings into the onions. Cover, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the chicken breasts and any remaining juices on the plate to the pot, cover, and gently simmer until the breasts are just cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes more.
Transfer the chicken to a plate or cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Boil the onion mixture for up to 10 minutes to concentrate its flavors, adding any juices from the chicken. 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 them among warmed serving plates. Spoon a generous amount of onions and sauce over the chicken and pass the chopped habañero on the side, if you like.
Print RecipeBuy the Lobel's Meat Bible cookbook

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Recipe Testers Reviews

I tried a version of this recipe in St. Louis a few weeks ago and was so happy to see this on the site. This recipe takes a little time and effort to make, but is well worth it. For me, there is just the right amount of heat in this recipe from the habañero, although others requested that I use jalapeños next time. The lemon flavor does not overpower, although if your bay leaves are small, use 3 or 4 to make sure the flavor comes through. The combination of flavors is wonderful. I served this with rice although quinoa is more traditional.


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  1. Chicken lemon and onions are a great combination. I have always loved combining lemon into recipes and it seems that it goes great with chicken. I also sometimes use lemon when cooking potatoes, but you need to be careful with how much you use or it could be quite lemony.

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