How to Cook Pesto Chicken Recipes + Tips

This green herb is a great pairing for chicken.

IMAGE Shutterstock

Are you a plantita with a pot (or three!) of aromatic herbs and vegetables growing in your garden?

You're not the only one. Many looked at sustainable hobbies like edible and ornamental gardening during the pandemic. Vegetable gardening is now a hip and popular stress reliever embraced by many. Most gardens like yours probably have potted edible leaves like basil and oregano. One example of an easy-to-maintain plant is basil. Basil is an aromatic herb used for cooking and has many medicinal benefits, but all food-loving citizens know basil is the key ingredient for an authentic pesto.

Pesto is an Italian culinary tradition from the Liguria region. It is made with basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts pounded to form a thick green paste. It is commonly paired with pasta but also used as a bread dip and sauce. 

Home cooks who have attempted to make pesto sauce from scratch may have one complaint: pesto sauce turns dark minutes after being blended. The cause for this is a chemical reaction between the plant's enzymes and oxygen. The response is triggered when the leaves are broken down like a food processor does, resulting in blackened pesto sauce. Fortunately, we know a remedy. A brief blanch in boiling water with a spoonful of baking soda should suffice in keeping those basil leaves bright green. 

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There are two kinds of pesto in the supermarket: green pesto made from basil leaves and red pesto made from sun-dried tomatoes.
Photo by Shutterstock
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With this, you can make a brilliant green pesto sauce with the following ingredients and equipment:

  • • Basil Leaves
  • • Garlic
  • • Pine nuts (Other nuts can be substituted such as cashews. Toast the nuts to mimic the pine nut flavor.)
  • • Extra virgin olive oil
  • • Fresh ground pepper
  • • Parmesan cheese
  • • Baking Soda
  • • Pot of boiling water
  • • Blender or food processor
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Begin by detaching the leaves from the stems. Next, prepare a pot of boiling water, add the baking soda, and quickly immerse the leaves, swirling to ensure that all the leaves are submerged for a few seconds until brightly green. Drain the water and dry the leaves with a cloth or paper towels. Allow the leaves to air dry immediately to prevent the residual heat from further cooking them or pat dry. Others advocate shocking the leaves in an ice bath, which you can do, too. 

Puree Away 

Blend the components, including your dried basil leaves, to make your pesto sauce using your favorite food processor. Be careful of two things: first, watch out for added salt because Parmesan cheese is salty already, and second, make sure your recipe does not contain water. To elevate your Pesto, some people use freshly grated Parmesan or indulge in the real thing: Parmigiano Reggiano. The resulting paste is a pleasant green that will not darken. You can make many pesto sauce variations if you want to utilize different ingredients. For this recipe, we will use the classic Pesto sauce.

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This is an easy pesto pasta to make with your homemade pesto sauce.
Photo by Roselle Miranda

More Than Just Pasta Sauce

Pesto is also a meat marinade. Imagine the ease of throwing together your meat and sauce, leaving it to marinate for four hours on its own to become flavorful. You have an easy applause-inducing dish.

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Tips For Using Pesto As A Marinade

  • • Instead of just lightly scoring chicken breast, cut deeper but not enough separate the meat. Cut using a crisscross pattern; by doing this, more marinade can seep into your protein.
  • • Use boneless chicken thigh instead of the chicken breast since thighs tend to be more tender and juicier. The breast can be, too, if you brine it first.
  • • Add rice vinegar, salt, and sugar in your pesto sauce as marinade ingredients. These ingredients will help your meat tenderize.
  • • As a flavor variation, add cream to make it creamy pesto. The flavor profile will be less overpowering and more kid-friendly.

How To Cook Pesto Chicken 

Pan searing pesto-marinated chicken is the recommended cooking method. To do that, heat a cast iron pan or a heavy-bottomed pan to smoking temperature and place the cut-up side down first to effectively sear the chicken. Allow the meat to color before flipping it over. Remember to baste using the remaining marinade to make the most of it. Tilt the pan to do this if needed. Reduce the heat to Low and cover the pan to allow the meat to finish cooking. Arrange the chicken on a bed of sautéed pasta or vegetables before serving.

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Roasting in the oven and air frying are two examples of fuss-free cooking, and either can be the cooking method of choice for your pesto chicken. Just arrange in a baking dish or tray, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil during the last few minutes to brown the exposed meat if roasting in the oven.

In the air fryer, you'll want to line the fryer with foil to catch any drippings. Set the temperature to roughly 180 C with the cut side down, as the idea is to brown the presentation part last. For more consistent cooking, flip the sides halfway through. It should take around 15 minutes on each side. Check doneness by taking the internal chicken temperature; it should register around 165 degrees F. 

How do you enjoy your pesto chicken? Let us know and share your recipes with the Yummy.ph community. 

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here.


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