Got a bumper crop of basil? Love pesto? Want to elevated your chicken dinner? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’ve come to the right spot. Here we’ll walk you through the simple steps to make a homemade Pesto Chicken Marinade, including suggested marinating times, and several ways to cook your marinated pesto chicken for a perfectly flavorful and fresh dinner.
A simple marinade for Basil Pesto chicken Recipe
Making this Pesto Chicken Marinade is one of the easiest ways to infuse a basic and versatile protein like chicken into a simple dinner that really wows the tastebuds. Fresh basil, lemon, oil, and garlic come together in this nut-free, dairy-free pesto marinade that is bright and light.
ingredients for Pesto chicken marinade
Gather these fresh and pantry ingredients to get your pesto chicken marinade started:
- chicken – use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or legs
- fresh basil – you’ll need 1 cup of tightly packed basil leaves (about 3/4 to 1 ounce)
- oil – we recommend avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
- lemon – you’ll need the juice of ½ lemon (about 1½ tablespoons lemon juice)
- garlic – use 1 clove of minced garlic (a generous teaspoon or two) or 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
- fine salt and black pepper – if you desire a little more heat, use red pepper flakes in place of the black pepper
Unlike traditional pesto sauce, this marinade doesn’t call for any parmesan cheese or pine nuts, so this is a dairy-free and nut-free pesto marinade. See the recipe card below for the complete nutrition analysis, including calories, carbohydrates, sodium, and cholesterol for a serving of pesto marinated chicken breast.
how to make Basil Pesto chicken marinade
You can have this pesto chicken marinade ready to go in less than 5 minutes.
- Place the chicken in a heavy-duty zip-top bag, a reusable silicone bag, a large bowl, or a freezer-safe container.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine all of the pesto chicken marinade ingredients; process until smooth, then pour over the chicken. Make sure the chicken is immersed in the marinade and then just let it soak. Read below for our recommended marinating times.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a food processor or don’t want to get yours dirty, you can finely mince the basil and then mix all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
how long should I marinate Pesto chicken?
You can marinate chicken in the refrigerator or in the freezer. Here are the two basic methods:
- How long to marinate chicken in the refrigerator: When the chicken is covered with the marinade, whether in a bowl or a bag, place it in the refrigerator. Marinate the chicken for a minimum of 4 hours to allow the acid to tenderize the chicken and the flavors to penetrate the meat. On the long end, you can safely leave the marinated chicken in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, covered or sealed in the bag, before cooking. We recommend that you turn the bag over every 12-24 hours (or toss the chicken, if it’s in a bowl).
- How long to marinate chicken in the freezer: You can also prep this chicken marinade and place the whole thing (bag, chicken, and marinade) in the freezer for up to 2 months. Just be sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag before sealing it. When it comes time to thaw the marinated chicken, take it out of the freezer and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours before cooking.
4 ways to cook marinated Pesto chicken
After your chicken has been marinating in this delicious basil pesto chicken marinade, there are several different ways you can cook it. Here are our suggestions:
- Oven baking: Preheat the oven to 375℉. Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the juices. Place the chicken in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Bake the pesto marinated chicken until the juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink in the middle, 15-20 minutes. Make sure the thickest part of the chicken registers 165℉ on an instant-read thermometer.
- Oven broiling: Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the juices. Position the top oven rack 8 inches below your oven’s broiler element. Preheat the oven broiler to medium-high. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet or in a cast iron pan. Broil on each side, turning once, until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle, 3-5 minutes per side. Make sure the thickest part of the chicken registers 165℉ on an instant-read thermometer. If the chicken is cooking too quickly, move the pan to a lower oven rack. Note: When broiling chicken, you’ll have the best results if the chicken is an even thickness.
- On the grill (and kebab style): Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the juices. Grill whole marinated chicken breasts, thighs, and legs until the chicken is cooked through. For breasts, grill about 8-10 minutes, 7-8 minutes for thighs, and 5-6 minutes for chicken legs. To make kebabs, cut the marinated pesto chicken into 1-inch chunks and thread onto skewers. Grill until the chicken pieces are cooked through, turning often, about 8 minutes total.
- Sauté on the stovetop: Place a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 teaspoon cooking fat of choice (such as avocado oil, ghee, olive oil, etc.). Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the juices. Place the chicken in the skillet and cook for 5 minutes on each side or until the chicken is lightly browned. Place a lid on the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook an additional 8-10 minutes or until juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink in the middle. Make sure the thickest part of the chicken registers 165℉ on an instant-read thermometer. For juicy chicken or if your pan runs hot, add a few tablespoons of water to the skillet before covering with the lid if desired.
Ways to serve Marinated Pesto chicken Recipe
These are a few of our favorite ways to serve this marinated pesto chicken recipe:
Italian night: these bright and fresh flavors are perfect for serving Italian style. Slice or dice the marinated and cooked pesto chicken. Then, toss it with cooked penne pasta, spaghetti squash strands, or zucchini noodles. Add in your favorite marinara and more fresh herbs
straight up: this marinated pesto chicken is so flavorful, that it tastes great hot off the grill, stovetop, or oven pan. Serve it with a side of cooked rice and roasted asparagus or broccoli for a nutritious, well-rounded meal
in chicken salad: add a punch of extra flavor by using marinated and cooked pesto chicken in any of our chicken salad recipes
Servings: 4 servings 1x
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or legs*
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 large garlic clove
- ½ – 1 teaspoon fine salt
- Pinch of black pepper or red pepper flakes
- Place chicken in a large bowl, zip-top plastic bag (or a freezer-safe container, if you plan to freeze the chicken).
- In the bowl of a food processor blender, place the basil, oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. Process until blended and mostly smooth.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken, cover bowl or close bag. Gently toss or massage to coat the chicken pieces evenly.
Marinate the covered chicken in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours and a maximum of 2-3 days before cooking. Or, to freeze, remove as much air from the freezer-safe container as possible, and freeze the chicken in the marinade for up to 2 months.
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* If using chicken legs, increase to 1 1/2 lbs.
- Serving Size: 4 oz marinated chicken breast
- Calories: 127
- Fat: 4 g
- (Sat Fat: 1 g)
- Sodium: 252 mg
- Carbohydrate: 0 g
- (Fiber: 0 g
- Sugar: 0 g)
- Protein: 23 g
- Cholesterol: 66 mg
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