This easy-to-make homemade Pesto Chicken Marinade uses fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic for amazing flavor! Your pesto chicken turns out super moist, delicious, and wonderfully tender!
Pesto Chicken Marinade Recipe
I love pesto! I mean, I love alfredo too I just shouldn't eat it as often as I would like 🙂
Anything pesto is especially fabulous when Spring is here and you can use fresh, young basil leaves to make amazing marinades like this one! If you love pesto too, try combining this juicy pesto chicken with my amazing pesto and some pasta!
This rich and zesty pesto marinade combines 7 ingredients for a big, bold flavor that's sure to be a family favorite!
- Olive Oil - is the perfect base oil to use for this classic Italian flavor! The wonderful EVOO taste works in combination with all of the ingredients to really make this a rich, tangy, marinade! If you don't have extra virgin olive oil on hand, choose another cooking oil that is flavorless. Your cooking oil will also need a smoke point that will be suitable for your chosen cooking method.
- Lemon Juice - adds a bright, zesty flavor that pairs so well with basil! For an even more amazing punch of lemon flavor, zest your lemons before juicing them! If you have bottled lemon juice, that will work suitably for marinades although it does not impart the same super fresh flavor!
- Basil - the amazingly flavorful basil can be added as fresh, chopped herbs. You can also buy the tube or paste of basil that is available in the produce aisle at your local grocery stores. Paste basil is a little less flavorful than fresh, so you can use generous tablespoons of the tube basil. Basil can also typically be found in the freezer section near the frozen fruits in small plastic packs. Use in equal amounts as fresh basil. Or use dried basil, but reduce to 2 teaspoons rather than 2 tablespoons for this pesto marinade.
- Garlic - is a staple marinade ingredient in one form or another for me. It adds such a great earthy, warm, slightly spicy flavor that is part of what makes garlic so unique and so commonly used! Use fresh, minced garlic or the jarred ready-to-use minced garlic works just as well. To swap fresh garlic out for garlic powder, reduce the amount to 1 teaspoon of garlic powder.
- Pine Nuts - are a traditional pesto ingredient, but they are sometimes hard to find! The pine nuts will need to be ground down into fine pieces in a food processor, nutribullet, or whatever you usually use.
- Salt & Pepper - the basic seasoning to highlight all of your delicious ingredients!
Can I Use other Nuts for Pesto?
Yes, most definitely! The different nut varieties offer their varied subtle flavors to some fabulous pesto marinades and sauces!
My favorite pine nuts substitute for pesto is using walnuts. Almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, and peanuts are more nuts to choose from. Seeds like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds would be additional alternatives.
For additional flavor, try toasting your seeds or nuts before using them in the marinade! Simply heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then toast the nuts or seeds until fragrant and golden brown. Watch the toasting nuts or seeds closely and remove them from heat immediately if browning rapidly!
Can I Add Parmesan Cheese?
So very yes! You most certainly can add some Parmesan cheese, I just prefer not to.
Depending on how I am preparing the pesto chicken, I may or may not add some cheese. My favorite time to include some Parmesan is when I bake the pesto marinated chicken!
How To Make Pesto Chicken Marinade
In addition to all of the ingredients listed above, I suggest using the ziploc or zip-top style plastic food storage bags. The bags help the marinade 'cling' to the chicken surfaces best for maximum marinating results and the BEST chicken!
I'm using the quart-size freezer bags here, as my marinade is going straight to the freezer as part of my meal prep for the week!
- In the bowl of your food processor, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pulse until the pine nuts reach a fine consistency, then add the chopped basil and pulse a few times more to mix them into the marinade evenly.
- Place the chicken and marinade into a ziploc plastic storage bag, then seal securely while pressing out any remaining air from the bag.
- Massage the marinade into the chicken by squishing the marinade throughout the bag. Make sure that the chicken is thoroughly coated.
- Refrigerate and marinate for at least 4 hours. Freeze for up to 3 months.
If you will be grilling your chicken breasts whole, it is best to flatten each of the chicken breasts for quick and even cooking. Place the chicken pieces between two sheets of plastic cling film then pound with a meat mallet or tenderizer ( using the flat side ).
Start at the center of the chicken breast and work your way toward the edges. Continue until the chicken is even in thickness.
Alternatively, you can cut the chicken breast thickness in half, like chicken breast cutlets. This can still leave uneven portions of chicken, which is why I prefer the flattened method 🙂
Marinating the Chicken
Your chicken needs to marinate for at least 15 – 20 minutes before cooking. The longer you can let the chicken marinate, the more deliciously pesto flavored it will be!
I would usually recommend at least 4 hours, or overnight ( 8 – 24 hours ) for optimal marinating. The flavor of this citrus-based marinade is best used with a maximum of 2 days of marinating.
While frozen chicken can usually be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months or more, I recommend a maximum of only three months. Allow frozen marinated chicken to thaw while refrigerated overnight.
The pesto chicken marinade slowly seeps into your chicken while it thaws, making it effortlessly delicious!
Check out all of my amazingly tasty and super easy chicken marinades in one place! The marinades are absolutely perfect for grilled, pan-fried, or oven-baked chicken breasts, thighs, wings, skewers, and more!
Pesto Chicken Marinade
- 2 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 2 tbsp basil (fresh, chopped or basil paste)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp garlic (minced)
- ¼ tsp each, salt & pepper
- In the bowl of your food processor, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pulse until the pine nuts have reached a fine consistency. Add the fresh basil, and pulse briefly to distribute throughout the marinade.
- Place the chicken and marinade into a ziploc plastic storage bag, then seal securely while pushing out any excess air.
- Using your hands, massage the marinade into the chicken through the bag. Squish the marinade throughout the bag until the chicken is thoroughly coated.
- Refrigerate for at least 4 hours for best results. Freeze for up to 3 months.
If you will be grilling whole chicken breasts, it is best to flatten the chicken breasts for quick and even cooking. Place your chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic cling film and pound with a meat mallet or tenderizer ( the flat side ). Start at the center of the chicken breast and work your way toward the edges.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!