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Skillet Chicken with Pesto Marinade

Leftover pesto is mixed with a little vinegar and salt to make a flavorful chicken breast marinade for this Skillet Chicken with Pesto Marinade recipe.

Skillet Chicken with Pesto Marinade recipe

On a cold March day in 2015, I sat at a Portland bar with an old friend as the sun began its final descent for the day. In the dim evening light, we talked about everything: our lives, jobs, friends, errors, successes, the future. Then we talked about me.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you truly relax,” he said.

I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to argue. To point out all the times I’d really relaxed. But instead, the only words that came out were “Have you met me? I don’t relax.”

And it was true. I didn’t. At the time, I’m not even sure I knew how to.

Too much coffee. Too many thoughts swirling in my head. Too much worry. Just too much everything … Relaxation seemed like something other people did while I was busy trying to conquer the world and make my kids’ lives better. Someone had to make sure our lives ran smoothly, and on course. Why would I sit around when there was so much to be done?

But then a funny thing happened shortly after. I rediscovered laughter … and it was magical.

Studies show that laughter is good stress relief. It eases tension, helps reduce feelings of stress and — in the long term — can help boost your immune system. The endorphins released when you laugh don’t just improve your mood, they also can increase your pain resistance. That’s the magic of laughter: it’s so good for your body and mind. Or, if you prefer the cliched trope, laughter really is the best medicine.

A life with laughter is so much happier.

The Dalai Lama said, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” And that’s something I’ve learned since that evening: we really can control our own happiness. It comes through the decisions we make — from the people we surround ourselves with to the activities we enjoy. And an important part of that is not becoming too wrapped up in a single activity. Work, for instance, when it’s something you love, is a great thing for happiness levels. But you can’t just work. You need friendships, relationships and other things you enjoy too.

I love reading. And playing board games. And watching good movies. And hiking, biking, swimming, coaching soccer and more. I like being active and all these things together formulate a happy life.

Most of all, I love laughing.

Here’s where I should have a graceful transition to this recipe, but the truth is that I can’t quite think of one. I could bring up some moment from my kitchen life that shows how laughing while cooking can be so wonderful. Or I could point to Julia Child, whose chortles and joy in the kitchen introduced me to why cooking can be enjoyable. Or something else … I don’t know.

Instead, let’s just step sideways like a TV host and jump headlong into this chicken recipe, shall we?

Juicy Skillet Chicken Recipe with a Pesto Marinade

Skillet Chicken with Pesto Marinade produces a juicy chicken breast full of flavor. But I’ll warn you: although it’s a pesto-based marinade, the recipe doesn’t scream PESTO! It gives the chicken a pleasant savory flavor with notes of garlic and a hint of tanginess.

Pesto Marinade

This chicken begins with a simple marinade — prepared pesto is swirled with a little vinegar and salt to make a marinade that will both flavor and tenderize your chicken breasts.

Chicken breasts marinating in a pesto marinade

Let it sit for at least an hour, but several hours is best. Or marinate it all day, covered in the fridge.

Once your chicken is marinated to your liking, heat a skillet over medium heat on the stove. Brown the chicken on both sides — about 5-6 minutes per side. Then add about 1/4 cup water to the pan, cover and cook for an additional 10-12 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it sit for a few minutes before slicing. The resulting chicken will be so moist and perfectly cooked.

That water step? It’s my secret to juicy, mouthwatering chicken. And since the chicken is already seared, it helps cook it without making it bland like boiled chicken. You’re welcome.

Yield: 4 servings

Skillet Chicken with Pesto Marinade

Skillet Chicken with Pesto Marinade


  • 3 tbsp leftover pesto, (I use kale pesto, but any pesto will do)
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup water


  1. Stir together the leftover pesto, white wine vinegar and salt in wide-bottom bowl. Add the chicken breasts, turning to coat. Cover, and marinate for at least one hour, turning the chicken once. I prefer to marinate for longer though -- up to 10 hours -- for more flavor.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat on the stove. (Be sure to use a skillet that has a cover.). Add the chicken and brown, 5-6 minutes per side.
  3. Pour 1/4 cup water into the skillet, cover and cook for an additional 10-12 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. It should be firm to the touch.
  4. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing thinly. Enjoy.

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