Pesto chicken is a simple yet delicious way to add excitement and fresh flavor to your weeknight dinner routine. This basil pesto sauce paired with juicy chicken breasts or thighs makes for a quick and easy meal the whole family will love.
What is pesto chicken?
Pesto chicken refers to any chicken dish where pesto sauce is used as a marinade, coating, or topping for the chicken.
Pesto is a flavorful green sauce made from basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil. The herbaceous basil and savory Parmesan give the pesto a bright, summery taste that complements the chicken perfectly.
Pesto chicken can be made on the stovetop, baked in the oven, or grilled for maximum flavor. The pesto is usually spread over boneless chicken breasts or thighs before cooking, allowing the flavors to seep into the meat.
The pesto chicken is then finished cooking until the chicken is fully cooked through and the pesto coating has browned.
Benefits of making pesto chicken
There are many benefits to making pesto chicken for dinner:
- Quick and easy: pesto chicken comes together in 30 minutes or less active cooking time. The hands-on time is minimal, just coating the chicken and cooking it through.
- Flavorful: Bright basil and savory Parmesan give this dish a big pop of summery flavor. The pesto sauce keeps the chicken juicy and infuses it with taste.
- Nutritious: Pesto is a great way to get nutrients from fresh basil and pine nuts into your dinner. The sauce also usually contains vitamin-rich olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
- Versatile: Pesto chicken can be served on its own, over pasta or rice, in sandwiches or wraps, atop pizza, mixed into pasta salads, and more.
- Customizable: Make it your own by using different herbs in the pesto or adding veggies like tomatoes or spinach.
Pesto Chicken Variations
There are many ways to adapt this pesto chicken recipe to suit your tastes:
- Use thawed, frozen chicken breasts or tenders for extra-quick cooking.
- Replace chicken with pork chops or fish fillets. Salmon and cod work well.
- Stuff pesto chicken breasts with cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, or spinach.
- Make pesto chicken kabobs using chicken chunks, peppers, onions, and zucchini.
- Coat the chicken in breadcrumbs or panko after spreading on the pesto for extra crispy baked pesto chicken.
- Top the pesto chicken with mozzarella or Parmesan and broil until the cheese is melted and golden.
- Serve pesto chicken over pasta, rice, roasted potatoes, or creamy polenta for a complete meal.
- Stir roasted vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, or asparagus into the finished pesto chicken pasta dish.
The possibilities are endless with this versatile basil pesto sauce!
Tips for Making the Best Pesto Chicken
Follow these tips for flavorful, juicy pesto chicken every time:
- Use fresh, in-season basil. The fresher the basil, the tastier the pesto will be. Or opt for frozen pesto.
- Toast the pine nuts. Quickly toasting the nuts deepens their flavor.
- Grate the Parmesan: Buy a wedge and grate it yourself instead of pre-grated cheese for a more intensely cheesy pesto.
- Brighten with lemon: Add a squeeze of lemon juice to freshen up the pesto.
- Use good-quality olive oil. Splurge on a nice extra virgin olive oil to let its flavor shine.
- Season well. Don’t be afraid to generously season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Quickly sear the chicken. Browning the pesto-coated chicken before baking helps seal in moisture.
- Don’t overbake; cook just until the thickest part of the chicken reaches 165°F, not longer.
- Let it rest. Allowing the chicken to rest after baking ensures it stays juicy when cut.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pesto Chicken
Here are some common questions people have about making pesto chicken:
How long does pesto chicken take to bake?
In a 400°F oven, boneless chicken breasts coated with pesto will take 12–15 minutes to bake until cooked through and juicy. Chicken thighs may need a few extra minutes. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
What sides go well with pesto chicken?
Pesto chicken pairs well with rice, pasta, roasted vegetables, salad, crusty bread, and more. Some easy options are pasta tossed with extra pesto, oven-roasted broccoli and potatoes, or a simple mixed green salad.
What is the best way to store and reheat leftover pesto chicken?
Refrigerate leftover pesto chicken in an airtight container for 3–4 days. Reheat in a skillet over medium heat with a splash of water until warmed through, or reheat gently in the microwave.
Can you freeze pesto chicken?
Absolutely! Allow the cooked pesto chicken to cool completely, then transfer to freezer bags or containers, leaving 1⁄2 inches of headspace. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
What herbs can I use instead of basil for pesto chicken?
Some herbs that would substitute well for basil include cilantro, parsley, spinach, arugula, and mint. You can make cilantro pesto, parsley pesto, spinach pesto, or any herb combo for the chicken.
Easy Pesto Chicken Recipe
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup prepared basil pesto
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Use a spoon to spread a thin layer of pesto over the top of each chicken breast, coating it evenly.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken breasts, pesto-side down. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the pesto is browned.
- Flip the chicken and cook for 1 minute more on the second side. This helps seal in the flavors.
- Transfer the chicken to the prepared baking sheet, pesto-side up.
- Bake for 12–15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh basil.
Hi, I’m Julie, the passionate foodie and founder of Juliesfamilykitchen.com. I created this blog out of a drive to prove someone wrong, and then I realized how much I truly enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. In my free time, when I’m not running around after my kids or spending quality time with my partner, you can usually find me in the kitchen experimenting with new dishes.