This creamy chicken with red pesto sauce is the perfect weeknight meal. Ready in under 30 minutes, this red pesto chicken is high in protein, gluten-free, and can be served in so many tasty ways!
- why this recipe is awesome!
- ingredients and substitutions
- recipe testing notes
- how to make this - step by step
- watch how to make this - step by step
- expert tips for a joy-filled experience
- common questions
- Ways to mix up your red pesto chicken
- allergy swaps
- storage tips
- ways to use leftovers
- fun fact
- more juicy chicken recipes
why this recipe is awesome!
Ok, I’m going to tell you a little secret. Making a delicious dinner with juicy chicken that is ready in 30 minutes is possible and it can even be gluten and dairy free!
In this post, I will walk you through everything you need to know to make this smooth and flavor-packed sauce and tips to make sure your chicken is cooked perfectly every time!
And by the end, you will fall in love with this recipe because:
- It's Quick and Easy: You can whip this up in just 30 minutes. Yep, you read that right! It's a quick and easy meal.
- It's Creamy Dreamy Goodness: The combination of chicken with a creamy red pesto sauce will make you feel like you're dining in an Italian trattoria.
- Versatility at Its Best: Pair it with crusty bread, a side salad, orzo, rice, or mashed potatoes, and you have a meal fit for any occasion.
ingredients and substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted. See the recipe card for quantities.
Red Pesto: This vibrant sauce made with tomatoes, herbs, and nuts brings rich flavor to the dish.
Substitutions: You can use store-bought tomato or sun-dried tomato pesto, or you can use our delicious red pesto recipe! You can also use green pesto or white pesto for a different flavor.
Chicken Breast: Lean and protein-rich, chicken breasts are the perfect canvas to soak up this creamy red pesto sauce.
Substitutions: Chicken cutlets can be used for a quicker cook time (about half), or free-range chicken for a more ethical choice.
Chicken Stock: Adding depth and richness, chicken stock helps to create a luscious sauce.
Substitutions: Vegetable or beef stock can be used as alternatives or a mixture of water with a chicken bouillon cube.
Cornstarch: Used to thicken the creamy red pesto sauce, giving it a luxurious texture. While cornstarch is a great way to thicken non-dairy sauces, we always want to be careful not to use too much so that the sauce gets gummy.
Substitutions: Flour at a 2:1 ratio or arrowroot powder at a 1:1 ratio can be used if cornstarch is unavailable.
Oat Milk: This dairy-free option adds creaminess to the sauce without overpowering it.
Substitutions: Other non-dairy milk like almond or soy milk work. Regular cow's milk or heavy cream can also be substituted for a dairy version.
Garlic: Infusing the dish with a warm and robust flavor, garlic is a pantry staple in many great recipes.
Substitutions: Garlic powder or minced garlic from a jar can be used if fresh is not on hand.
Shallots: Shallots add a subtle and sophisticated onion flavor to the dish.
Substitutions: Regular onions, scallions, or even leeks can be used if shallots are not available.
Sun-Dried Tomatoes: These add an intense and tangy tomato flavor, enhancing the overall taste of the tomato pesto chicken recipe.
Substitutions: Cherry tomatoes can be used for a fresh twist or if sun-dried tomatoes are unavailable. You can also try adding spinach for added veggies!
Fresh Basil: Fresh basil provides a fragrant and bright touch, complementing the rich pesto.
Substitutions: Dried basil or minced basil can be used as substitutes.
This recipe has not been tested with other substitutions or variations. If you replace or add any ingredients, please let us know how it turned out in the comments below!
recipe testing notes
Throughout our testing of this creamy red pesto chicken pasta, we learned some key things that worked and didn't work. Here are the key takeaways!
- Getting the chicken golden brown: The key to browning chicken, is to not overcrowd the pan. Give each chicken breast space to breathe (a couple of inches) so the heat can fully circulate. Cooking on medium-high heat ensures a perfect golden brown surface.
- Searing time: We also determined that searing the chicken breast for 4 minutes on each side is the perfect amount. This results in the chicken being cooked just enough to finish cooking when it's simmered in the sauce. The result is a perfectly juicy and tender chicken!
how to make this - step by step
Be sure to scroll to the recipe card for the full chicken in red pesto sauce recipe!
Step one: sear the chicken
Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper.
Add to the skillet and sear for 4 minutes on each side and then remove and set aside. They won't be fully cooked but that’s ok! They will finish cooking in the sauce later.
Step two: saute
Saute the shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic in oil over medium heat until fragrant in a large skillet.
Step three: start the sauce
Add the red pesto to the pan and reduce heat to low to medium. Deglaze the pan by adding the chicken stock and scraping up the chicken bits from the bottom of the pan to get all that good flavor!
Deglazing is the process of adding cold liquid to a hot pan to release the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Brown is flavor!
Step four: make cornstarch slurry
In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and milk. Slowly add this to the pan while whisking.
Step five: cook the chicken in the sauce
Add the chicken back to the pan. Bring the sauce to a low boil and cook for 5-7 minutes covered.
Step six: finish and serve
Once the chicken reaches 165 degrees internal temperature, turn the heat off and top with fresh basil and parmesan. Serve with rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, or another favorite side dish!
watch how to make this - step by step
expert tips for a joy-filled experience
Looking to take this tomato pesto chicken recipe to the next level? Here are a couple of little tips that might help:
Use Fresh Ingredients
Fresh basil and high-quality red pesto will make the whole dish more vibrant and enjoyable.
Don't Overcook the Chicken
Keep an eye on the chicken to ensure that it remains tender. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature between 165 to 175 degrees F.
Using Spicy Pesto
As the pesto cooks it loses some of its tomato flavor and spice. So, go ahead and use a pesto that's spicy when uncooked, it will mellow out - I promise!
Absolutely, just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Chicken thighs will require a longer cook time, in particular, if they are bone-in.
Garlic bread, green beans, or a simple side salad pairs well with this dish. This dish is also great over pasta or rice!
Of course! You can easily double the quantities to make more chicken. Just make sure to not crowd the pan when you sear the chicken. You may need to sear the chicken in batches.
Also, this recipe results in a high sauce-to-chicken ratio. You can get away with doubling the chicken quantity but leaving the sauce quantities the same. You'll still have enough sauce for the chicken!
The key to not overcooking your chicken and keeping it nice and juicy is to use a meat thermometer to make sure it is 165 to 175 degrees. It’s also important to note that the chicken will not be fully cooked after pan searing, but will be finished cooking in the sauce at the end.
Ways to mix up your red pesto chicken
Experiment and make this dish your own with these tasty twists!
- Spicy Red Pesto and Chicken: If you need some spice in your life, just add red pepper flakes to the sauce for a fiery twist.
- Caprese Chicken with Tomato Pesto: Top the chicken with slices of mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and cherry tomatoes before baking. A creamy and flavorful delight!
- Red Bell Pepper Pesto Chicken: Add chopped red bell peppers to the creamy sauce and cook until tender. A colorful and veggie-packed variation!
If you have special dietary restrictions, here are some substitution ideas to keep this pasta salad safe for everyone!
- Gluten-free: Just be sure your corn starch is gluten-free and you're good to go!
- Dairy Free: By making this chicken with oat milk, it's already dairy free! Just be sure to use unsweetened, plain plant milk. And I don't recommend coconut milk. Also, if using a store-bought pesto make sure it's dairy free. Usually, tomato pesto is dairy free while sun-dried tomato pesto or pesto rosso includes parmesan.
- Nut Free: To keep this nut-free, try using sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts for the pesto (if making homemade). Otherwise, look for a store-bought pesto that doesn’t use nuts in the ingredients.
Fridge: Storing the red pesto chicken in the fridge is ideal if you plan to enjoy it within the next 3-4 days. Allow the dish to cool to room temperature, then place it in an airtight container to prevent any moisture loss.
Keeping the creamy pesto sauce separate from any pasta, grains, or potatoes that it was served with will help retain the pasta's texture. When you're ready to savor it, simply reheat it on medium heat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Freezer: For a longer-term solution, you can freeze this red pesto chicken. This method works particularly well for the creamy sauce, which can be portioned into individual servings and frozen for up to three months.
When freezing the chicken, ensure that it's well-wrapped to prevent freezer burn. You might also freeze the sauce separately to maintain its creamy consistency. When you're ready to enjoy it, thaw it in the fridge overnight or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
Reheating: From the fridge, the red pesto chicken can be reheated on medium heat in a skillet on the stovetop for 8-10 minutes, or in the microwave for 4-5 minutes. If you've frozen the dish, make sure to thaw it in the fridge first, then follow the same reheating guidelines.
ways to use leftovers
Do you have leftovers from this red pesto chicken recipe? Here's how you can mix it up for the next meal!
Pasta Bake with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Chicken: Mix leftovers with cooked pasta, top with breadcrumbs and additional cheese, and bake until crispy on top. This is a filling and easy weeknight dinner idea!
Red Pesto Chicken Stuffed Bell Peppers: Stuff halved bell peppers with leftover red pesto chicken and rice, sprinkle with cheese, and bake until the peppers are tender.
Chicken Sandwich: Use the creamy pesto chicken as a sandwich base. We suggest shredding the chicken so it's easy to eat. Then, add some lettuce and fresh tomatoes, and put it in a baguette or panini for a delectable lunch.
Ever wonder why tomato sauce and tomato pesto are often found in glass jars? It's because tomatoes are notorious for taking on the flavor of whatever it is stored in - like a metal can. So while I recommend buying tomato-based sauces in glass jars, if they are in a metal can simply saute for a couple of minutes to remove the metallic flavor!
more juicy chicken recipes
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- 2 chicken breasts
- ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper ¼ teaspoon of each
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 1 shallot diced
- ¼ cup sun dried tomatoes diced
- 8 oz red pesto
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 1.5 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 cup oat milk
- 2 tablespoon fresh basil torn
- 2 tablespoon parmesan cheese (optional, for topping)
- Heat oil in a large pan and add the chicken, searing for 4 minutes on each side and then removing from the pan. It's ok if it's not completely cooked yet, it will finish cooking in the sauce! Keep the pan on the hot stove.
- Add a little more oil to the hot pan as needed. Saute the shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic until fragrant and brown, about 2 minutes.
- Add the red pesto to the pan and mix with the shallots, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock, scraping the bottom bits up to get all that good flavor! Deglazing is the process of adding a cold liquid to a hot pan to help release any flavorful bits of food that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Whisk the oat milk and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Add this to the hot pan and whisk together.
- Next, add the chicken back to the pan. Cook for another 5-7 minutes covered until the chicken reaches 165 degrees F and the sauce is thickened.
- Finish with fresh basil and parmesan and enjoy!