Lemon Chicken Orzo

Lemon Chicken Orzo is a 30-minute, one pot wonder that’s lusciously creamy (without any cream) and singing with bright lemon feta flavor!

This Lemon Chicken Orzo is vibrant comfort food the whole family will love!  It’s astonishingly quick and easy and all made in one pot in under 30 minutes!  It’s creamy (without any heavy cream!) yet light at the same time, brimming with sunny citrus, earthy-sweet zucchini, basil, and dill, punctuated by tangy, rich salty feta.  This Lemon Chicken Orzo is fabulous as written, or swap the veggies, protein or herbs.   Serve this lemon orzo recipe with garlic bread and tomato cucumber salad for an easy chicken dinner win!

We love orzo around here for its perfectly al dente texture! Try it with Lemon Garlic Shrimp with Greek Orzo, Italian Chicken Orzo Pasta, Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo and Southwest Orzo Salad,

HOW TO MAKE lemon chicken orzo VIDEo

up close of lemon chicken orzo with a serving spoon showing how creamy it is
showing how to make lemon chicken orzo by simmering in one pot then garnishing with feta

Ingredients for Lemon Chicken Orzo 

This recipe for Lemon Chicken Orzo takes advantage of so many fresh summer flavors, including lemon, zucchini, and fresh herbs. Here’s what you’ll need to make lemon orzo with chicken: 

  • Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs will work – whatever you prefer! The chopped chicken is seasoned with paprika, salt, and pepper.
  • Orzo: Looks like rice, but it’s actually pasta! Orzo can be found in the pasta aisle of any grocery store and has a lovely, al dente bite to it and is much more forgiving than rice.
  • Lemon: Use the juice and zest of one large lemon, or use two smaller lemons to equal ¼ cup juice.
  • Herbs: Dill, parsley, basil, and thyme infused the orzo with flavor. Use fresh or dried, noting that dried herbs are about three times as potent as fresh. 
  • Cheeses: Feta and mozzarella are stirred into the orzo just before it’s served. Feta infuses the lemon orzo with alluring salty, tangy flavor, while the mozzarella is super creamy and melts like a dream. Make sure to use freshly grated mozzarella for the best flavor and meltability.
  • Garlic: I used four cloves of garlic but use more or less depending on your garlic love.
  • Onion: One small onion or you may use shallots or 1 teaspoons onion powder.  
  • Zucchini: I love using zucchini in this recipe, but yellow summer squash or another seasonal veggie may be used. You can also omit the zucchini completely.  
  • Chicken broth: I recommend using reduced sodium chicken broth so you can control the amount of salt in this dish. If you don’t have reduced sodium broth, omit the salt and bouillon in the recipe, then add to taste at the end.
  • Chicken bouillon: I tasted the lemon orzo recipe without bouillon and it definitely was missing that elevated flavor! The bouillon infuses the orzo with intense flavor, just as if it had been simmering and reducing all day. You may use 1 teaspoon granulated bouillon, 1 bouillon cube, or 1 teaspoon better than bouillon. If using a bouillon cube, crush it up before stirring directly into the pot (don’t dissolve in water first).
  • Evaporated milk: NOT to be confused with sweetened condensed milk! Evaporated milk is the secret to making an ultra-creamy orzo pasta and allows you to cook the orzo directly in the sauce without it curdling.  You will not have the same results with half and half or heavy cream.
  • Cornstarch: Helps to thicken the sauce without using heavy cream. Make sure to fully dissolve/whisk the cornstarch into the chicken broth before adding it to the pot, otherwise you’ll wind up with lumps that will never dissolve.

Shortcut Ingredient Substitutions 

To minimize the amount of chopping required for this recipe, try using one or more of the following ingredient swaps: 

  • Substitute the chicken with 2 cups rotisserie chicken.
  • Substitute the chopped onion with 1 teaspoon onion powder.
  • Substitute minced garlic with 1 teaspoon garlic powder.
  • Substitute the fresh dill and parsley with 1 teaspoon each dried.
a fork taking a bite of lemon chicken orzo showing how creamy it is

How to Make Lemon Chicken Orzo 

This Lemon Chicken Orzo is a straightforward recipe that’s almost impossible to mess up. The chicken is first cooked most of the way through before the orzo, aromatics, and zucchini are added in. After the broth and other liquids are added to the pot, the orzo is cooked until al dente and then mixed with melty cheese! 

Let’s take a closer look at how to make it (full recipe measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Prep the chicken. Pat the chopped chicken dry and season with paprika, salt and pepper.
showing how to make lemon chicken orzo by seasoning chopped chicken breasts with paprika, salt, pepper
  • Step 2: Brown the chicken. Brown the chicken until opaque, but not cooked through. Remove to a plate.
showing how to make lemon chicken orzo by browning chicken in a skillet
  • Step 3: Sauté the chicken and aromatics. Melt the butter in the chicken drippings and sauté the onions for a few minutes to give them a head start. Next, add the orzo and sauté for a couple minutes to toast it (for extra flavor and prevents it from easily becoming mushy) then add the garlic and zucchini and cook an additional 2 minutes or until the onions are completely tender.
a collage showing how to make lemon chicken orzo by 1) sautéing onions, 2), sautéing orzo, adding zucchini, sautéing garlic in a pot
  • Step 4: Cook the orzo. Add the evaporated milk, chicken broth whisked with cornstarch, lemon zest and lemon juice, chicken bouillon, dried thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until orzo is tender, stirring occasionally.
showing how to make lemon chicken orzo by adding mozzarella, feta, basil and dill to the creamy orzo with chicken
  • Step 5: Add the cheeses. Stir in the mozzarella cheese until melted followed by the feta, fresh basil, fresh dill and fresh parsley. Dig in!
lemon orzo with chicken in a skillet garnished by lemon slices, basil and feta
  • Swap protein: Swap the chicken for rotisserie chicken, ground chicken, chicken sausage, lean ground beef or Italian sausage or add roasted or sautéed shrimp or salmon at the end of cooking. This lemon orzo would also be great to stir in leftover chicken, pork, or steak!
  • Add extra veggies: Add sautéed mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers, green beans, tomatoes, peas, corn or spinach to the orzo. You will want to stir the peas and spinach into the orzo after simmering.
  • Add artichokes: Artichokes are tender, slightly sweet and nutty. Purchase artichoke hearts in water NOT marinated. The marinated ones often have an acrid taste. Chop and add to the simmering sauce. 
  • Make a crunchy topping: Add panko toasted in butter and olive oil to the top of the lemon orzo. 
  • Swap cheese: Instantly change the flavor profile by changing one or all of the cheeses. You can swap the feta for Parmesan, and the mozzarella for Gouda, Havarti, cheddar, Pepper Jack, etc.
top view of lemon orzo with chicken garnished by basil

Orzo FAQs

What is orzo?

Orzo, (also known as risoni and Italian for “barley”) is a short-cut rice-shaped pasta. It is made with whole-wheat flour, semolina flour (a product of durum wheat), white flour, or whole-grain flour.

How do I use orzo?

Just like all pastas, orzo is cooked by boiling in liquid (in this case, evaporated milk, chicken broth and lemon juice) until al dente.  You may use orzo instead of rice or pasta in many dishes.  Orzo is often used in rice pilaf, in soups, and sides.

What is orzo made of?

Orzo is usually made from white flour, although it can be made from whole-grain flour.  Both orzo pasta and rice are categorized as cereal grains but orzo is not gluten free.  For this recipe, we are going to use the traditional white-flour orzo. 

Is orzo healthier than rice?

Orzo pasta boasts twice the protein of brown rice and is a good source of thiamin and niacin as well as some B6, folate, iron and zinc. Orzo is a glucose bearing carbohydrate that creates serotonin, the “happiness neurotransmitter,” and eating this orzo pasta salad will certainly make you happy!

a fork taking a bite of lemon chicken orzo showing how creamy it is

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top view of lemon orzo with chicken garnished by basil

Lemon Chicken Orzo

This Lemon Chicken Orzo is vibrant comfort food the whole family will love!  It’s astonishingly quick and easy and all made in one pot in under 30 minutes!  It’s creamy (without any heavy cream!) yet light at the same time, brimming with sunny citrus, earthy-sweet zucchini, basil, and dill, punctuated by tangy, rich salty feta.  This Lemon Chicken Orzo is fabulous as written, or swap the veggies, protein or herbs.   Serve this lemon orzo recipe with garlic bread and tomato cucumber salad for an easy chicken dinner win!
Servings: 6 servings
Total Time: 30 mins
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN

  • 1 pound chicken breasts, chopped into large bite size pieces
  • 1/2 tsp EACH paprika, salt, pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

ORZO

ADD LATER

  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup feta
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 1 TBS EACH minced fresh dill, parsley (OR 1 teaspoon EACH dried)

Instructions

  • While chicken is still on the cutting board, pat it dry and season with ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon paprika and ½ teaspoon pepper.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 3.75 or larger braiser (this is the one I use) or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook until most off the chicken is opaque (chicken will not be cooked through). Remove to a plate.
  • Melt the butter in the drippings and heat over medium-high theat. Add onions and sauté for 4 minutes. Add orzo and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the grated zucchini and garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes or until the onions are tender.
  • Stir in the evaporated milk. Whisk the chicken broth with the cornstarch in a liquid measuring cup (or bowl) and add to the pot. Add the remaining ingredients up to "Add Later" (lemon juice, lemon zest, chicken bouillon, salt, pepper and thyme). Stir the chicken back into the pot.
  • Cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until orzo is tender, stirring every couple minutes so the orzo doesn’t burn on the bottom, and replacing the lid. Add additional broth if the orzo isn't done and most of the liquid is absorbed. (The finished orzo has more of a risotto consistency – all of the liquid will likely not be absorbed.)
  • Stir in the mozzarella cheese until melted followed by feta and fresh herbs. Taste and season with additional lemon juice, salt and pepper. If desired, you can make the dish "saucier" or creamier by stirring in additional broth, milk or cream.

Video

Notes

Tips and Variations

  • Chicken bouillon: I tasted the lemon orzo recipe without bouillon and it definitely was missing that elevated flavor! . You may use 1 teaspoon granulated bouillon, 1 bouillon cube, or 1 teaspoon better than bouillon. If using a bouillon cube, crush it up before stirring directly into the pot (don’t dissolve in water first).
  • Swap protein: Swap the chicken for rotisserie chicken, ground chicken, chicken sausage, lean ground beef or Italian sausage or add roasted or sautéed shrimp or salmon at the end of cooking. This lemon orzo would also be great to stir in leftover chicken, pork, or steak!
  • Swap or add extra veggies: Add sautéed mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers, green beans, tomatoes, peas, corn or spinach to the orzo. You will want to stir the peas and spinach into the orzo after simmering.
  • Swap cheese: Instantly change the flavor profile by changing one or all of the cheeses. You can swap the feta for Parmesan, and the mozzarella for Gouda, Havarti, cheddar, Pepper Jack, etc.

How to Store and Reheat

  • Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  The lemon orzo does not freeze well.
  • Microwave: Microwave small portions for 1 minute, stir, then continue to heat at 15-second intervals until warmed through.
  • Stove: For larger portions, reheat orzo gently on the stove, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a splash of milk or chicken broth to make it ultra creamy again. 

Meal Prep

This Lemon Chicken Orzo can be made completely in advance (it reheats really well!) or you can prepare the individual ingredients ahead of time: 
  • Chicken: can be chopped and seasoned up to three days ahead of time and stored in the fridge. 
  • Lemon: can be zested and juiced a couple days in advance and stored in the fridge.
  • Aromatics and zucchini: can be minced/grated and stored up to three days ahead of time in separate containers in the fridge. 
  • Cheese: mozzarella be shredded and stored in an container in the fridge.

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14 Comments

  1. Kim Pearson says

    Looks delicious! When does the chicken go back in? DId I miss that step?

    • Jen says

      Thanks for catching that, fixed! It goes in after you add all of the ingredients up to the “Add Later” in step 4. Enjoy!

  2. Courtney says

    Delicious recipe! Not all of the liquid absorbed, so it had more of a risotto feel, but still excellent. The flavor profile is amazing.

    • Jen says

      So pleased you loved it! Yes, it is more of a risotto style but you can definitely use less liquid next time if you like.

  3. Emily says

    Wow! This is going in regular rotation. It’s dreamy, creamy comfort food. I didn’t have evap milk and used heavy cream. It did have a more risotto quality which added to the comfort feeling. Highly recommend!

    • Jen says

      Yes, that’s what I love to hear, thanks Emily!

  4. Cheri says

    Can you use 2% milk instead of evaporated?

    • Jen says

      Hi Cheri, you can use heavy cream but not anything less fat otherwise it can curdle while boiling (less fat can be used for simmering sauces but not for boiling like in this recipe). Sorry!

  5. Sarah says

    Absolutely delish!! I can’t wait to make this again soon- my husband took one bite and said we need to add this to our regular rotation! Easy and SO good!

    • Jen says

      The best combo! Thanks so much Sarah, I love hearing this is a new repeat favorite!

  6. Emily says

    Hi!

    Could you use almond milk or oat milk? I’m lactose intolerant so I wanted an alternative!

  7. Rebecca says

    Soo Soo yummy! Found on Facebook! My house smells so good! That lemon is the star! Thank you ! Next time I’m going to add mushrooms to this I think that’s what I was missing with it. But 10/10!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for the glowing review Rebecca! And mushrooms would be fantastic!

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