Chicken in Milk

By Ann Fulton

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It may seem like an odd pairing, but the milk tenderizes the chicken while the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Lemon adds bright flavor and the whole thing smells–and tastes–divine.


Even as an adult, I anticipate my Christmas stocking every year. My husband always succeeds in finding a handful of gifts that are the perfect balance between practical and perplexing.

Early in our marriage, the gifts were mostly useful toiletries: a 500-count box of Q-tips, shampoo, and toothpaste. Over the years, however, he has left the bathroom in favor of the kitchen, with most welcome results.

A few of the gifts never change. I bank on English breakfast tea in bulk, a bottle of olive oil, two bags of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms (I’ve mentioned my sweet tooth in the past!), and peppercorns for our pepper mill.

Over the years, I have also received jumbo jars of pepperoncini (his favorite) and food items ranging from bags of fried fava beans and yellow lentils to a tin of Virginia peanuts and a box of ice cream cones (yes…that sweet tooth again).

There is no need for these gifts to actually fit in the stocking, by the way. They are typically stacked in a neat pile on the floor below.

So why am I writing about Christmas stockings when we will soon be thinking about Easter baskets? 

Along with the variety of edibles, there are usually a couple of magazines. I rarely buy magazines for myself, so this is always a treat. This year, a recipe from British chef Jamie Oliver popped out from one of the pages.

“Chicken in Milk” was odd yet intriguing, and I cooked it right away. The aroma was amazing, and the chicken ranked with the most tender I’ve ever consumed. I made the recipe several more times, dialing back the tanginess of the sauce and simplifying the preparation.

Though my family loved this tender chicken the first time, with each revision they adored it a little more.

It may seem like an odd pairing, but the milk tenderizes the chicken while the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Lemon adds bright flavor and the whole thing smells—and tastes—divine.

The pairing may sound odd, but this simple, mostly hands-off method produces the most tender, flavorful chicken imaginable. The calcium in the milk is thought to jump-start a natural enzyme in the chicken, which acts as the tenderizer. Cooking the chicken in the liquid further infuses it with moisture and flavor.

It may seem like an odd pairing, but the milk tenderizes the chicken while the garlic becomes soft and sweet. Lemon adds bright flavor and the whole thing smells—and tastes—divine.

Whole cloves of garlic are our favorite addition as they become soft and mellow as the chicken cooks–and I tend to be generous with them. Do make sure to use 2% or whole milk to balance the tang of the lemon, and don’t be off-put by the curdiness of the sauce. It’s a natural reaction when the acid meets the milk, and stirring will help to smooth it out. 

Chicken in Milk
Yield: 4-5 servings
Each time I prepare this recipe, I increase the amount of garlic over the original amount, listed below. The whole cloves soften and mellow as they cook, and everyone requests more of these creamy nuggets.
  • 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and/or legs (I use 1½ pounds of each)
  • ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cinnamon stick or ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • A few fresh thyme sprigs (may substitute sage)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice and the zest of one lemon
  • 10 garlic cloves, skin removed but left whole (may use more if you are a garlic fan)
  • 2 cups 2% or whole milk (could use canned coconut milk for a non-dairy option)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375℉. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or another heavy pot or casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Place the chicken, skin-side down, in the pot and allow it to cook without moving until the skin is nicely browned, about 10 minutes. (A splatter guard is helpful. This step will render much of the fat, brown the skin, and is best done in two batches so as not to crowd the pan. I don’t bother to brown the side with little to no skin.) Remove the browned chicken to a plate. Discard the excess oil, leaving the crusty bits on the bottom. This will add good flavor later.
  2. Put the chicken back in the pot with the rest of the ingredients, and cook, covered, in the preheated oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes. (I don’t baste or even peek, although I have taken the chicken out after 1 hour and 20 minutes and it was fine. I have also cooked early and reheated.) The lemon juice will sort of curdle the milk, making a thick sauce, which is creamy and delicious.
  3. Serve with crusty bread or over rice, noodles, or potatoes, as desired, to soak up the delicious sauce. A side of peas or green vegetable of choice completes the meal.

• To see what would happen if I omitted the browning step, I skipped it recently and was pleasantly surprised. While the color of the skin is not golden brown and beautiful, the resulting chicken is every bit as delicious as it is when browned first. Do note that the sauce will be greasier because the rendered fat is discarded in the browning step.

•  If you don’t typically use 2% or whole milk, look for the 16-ounce bottles to eliminate waste. If your grocery store doesn’t carry this size, many convenience stores do. Non-fat milk is too thin for this recipe, and the lack of fat will fail to balance the tang of the lemon juice.

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    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Courtney, I do recommend chicken with the bone and skin for this recipe. The rendered fat that comes from the skin balances the other ingredients, just as oil does in a vinaigrette. Also, boneless chicken breasts would require a shorter cooking time.

  1. Valerie Alvarez

    Thank you for this recipe! I tried it out last night and it turned out delicious. this was my first time using milk to cook chicken, and I was surprised at how moist and flavourful it came out.

  2. Rin

    What a great and easy way to cook chicken! I was very pleased with how moist this came out. I replaced the spices with a garam masala blend that I had on hand, and it paired perfectly with the lemon and garlic.

  3. Liz

    I am making this today and added broccoli because it’s Joe favorite was also linked to and cheese what kind of cheese do you think would go well with this recipe.

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Liz, A side of broccoli is a great accompaniment to this dish. I’ve never cooked it with the chicken and haven’t added cheese. If you ended up doing that, I’d love to know how you made out.