A Pesto Chicken recipe that’s simple, unfussy and perfect for weeknights. These pesto chicken tenders are so versatile—throw them over a salad or pilaf, put them in a wrap or sandwich, make a pizza or serve them over your favorite pesto pasta. One recipe, millions of options!

Why This Recipe Works

We tested this recipe a lot in the test kitchen trying to find the perfect pan, amount of oil, what heat to cook it over, and so many other variables. We love that this recipe is simple, requires little prep (aside from making the pesto) and can be served in a variety of different ways. 

Throw the golden-brown herby tenders over a green salad or grain pilaf, or stuff them into a sandwich, wrap or even tossed with your favorite pesto pasta. 

pesto-coated chicken tenders on a large white plate

Ingredient Notes

Chicken Tenders

In the test kitchen, we would choose chicken tenders over boneless, skinless chicken breasts any day. Their small size makes them much more ideal for cooking than chicken breasts ever will be. In addition to tenders being, well, tender, they also cook at the same rate throughout, which means you aren’t overcooking one end while you wait for the thick end to catch up. 

Look for air-chilled chicken tenders (or favorite) near the other cuts of chicken. 

Pesto 

We love to use our Cilantro Pesto for this recipe. Instead of traditional pine nuts, it’s made with pepitas which maintain their buttery, firm texture when they’re blitzed into a pesto. The bitty pieces of pepita toast up and take on a lovely texture as the tenders sear in hot oil—changing the pesto’s characteristics altogether. 

Oil 

For any pan-frying you do in the kitchen we recommend you use a high-heat cooking oil such as avocado oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil or vegetable oil. We prefer refined avocado oil, but use what you like and have on hand. 

pesto-coated chicken tenders on a large white plate

The Importance of Removing Tendon from Chicken

It’s best to remove the tendon that runs down the center of the chicken tenders prior to cooking. Do you have to? No, but it’s very tough and we find it distracting. It’s worth the effort to remove. Below are some step shots of how we remove the tendon, but there’s also a great hack out there that uses a fork and paper towel. 

How to Serve Pesto Chicken Tenders 

  • Serve chicken tenders over our Pesto Pasta & Zucchini Noodles. (For a low-carb option, use all zucchini noodles, instead of a combo of zucchini noodles and pasta.) You could even add a splash of cream to the pasta to create a creamy pesto sauce. Make it a full meal by tossing in some sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and finishing with fresh basil.
  • Top a small bowl of rice (simply seasoned with salt, pepper, a dash of garlic and a splash of vinegar) with a few chicken tenders.
  • Our Watermelon & Tomato Orzo Salad is the perfect side dish for this pesto chicken recipe! 
  • Make a chicken pesto sandwich by replacing the steak in this sandwich with the pesto chicken. Or make a chicken pesto panini by stuffing a few tenders between two pieces of sourdough with a couple of sliced of provolone or mozzarella. 
  • Try a pesto chicken pizza! Spread pesto over your favorite pizza dough, top with torn pieces of pesto chicken tenders and top with a combo of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. (This would be a great way to use up leftover pesto chicken.
pesto-coated chicken tenders on a large white plate

FAQs

What can I prep ahead of time? 

You can make the pesto ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Or you can pop it in the freezer for up to 6 months. Additionally, you can remove the tendons from the chicken tenders one or two days ahead of time if your chicken is very fresh. 

Can I use any types of pesto?

Yes, we really love to use our Cilantro Pesto Recipe, but you can use your favorite pesto recipe. We also like our Triple Herb Pesto (similar to a basil pesto), Carrot Top Pesto, or Radish Green Pesto.

For a quicker option, you can also use purchase pesto. If you go the product route, we always recommend using a refrigerated pesto instead of a jarred option. 

Can I use chicken thighs instead of chicken tenders?

We developed this recipe using chicken tenders, so we don’t recommend using thighs in place of them. If you are set on using thighs, we recommend using boneless, skinless thighs.

Can I bake this instead of cook it one the stove top?

We developed this recipe to be a quick weeknight meal, and the stove top is just faster and more efficient than heating up the whole oven for a few chicken tenders. We also love the crispy crust and flavor you get from lightly pan-frying the chicken. So, all in all, we do not recommend cooking the tenders in the oven.

Cilantro Pesto Chicken Tenders

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Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 8 mins
Total Time 18 mins
Yield 4 servings
Category Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine American/Italian

Description

Chicken tenders get coated in pesto then seared in a hot pan until golden brown and juicy with a crispy crust on the outside.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds chicken tenders, tendon removed
  • Morton kosher salt
  • ½ cup Cilantro Pesto or pesto of choice
  • 3 tablespoons avocado oil

Instructions

  • Season chicken lightly with salt. Toss chicken with pesto to coat.
    chicken tenders coated in pesto in a glass bowl
  • Heat a 12-inch high-quality non-stick skillet over medium-high for 2 minutes; add oil and heat until just shimmering.
    pesto chicken tenders in a nonstick skillet
  • Add chicken tenders in an even layer, (spread any leftover pesto from the bowl over top) and cook until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 165ºF (73ºC), about 3 minutes per side.
  • Serve over a salad or pilaf, in a sandwich, or on its own.

Notes

If you find you want a bit more pesto on the tenders, mix a few tablespoons with a light drizzle of olive oil then spoon over cooked tenders and finish with flaky sea salt and pepper.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat over low heat in a skillet or in the oven at 325ºF (162ºC), just until warmed through. You can also give them a quick zap in the microwave, but this is out least favorite option as it tends to dry out meat. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1/4 of recipeCalories: 378kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 42gFat: 22gSaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 106mgSodium: 304mgSugar: 2g
Keywords Pesto chicken recipe
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment below and tag @ZestfulKitchen on Instagram and hashtag it #zestfulkitchen!
pesto-coated chicken tenders on a large white plate

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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