Over the years I've perfected a version of homemade pesto chicken salad after ordering it countless times at any number of restaurants. It pairs fresh pesto with sun-dried tomatoes with shredded chicken — the ideal preparation for catching all the bits of herbs, cheese, and nuts that makes this recipe the best.
The Best Pesto Chicken Salad Starts with the Best Pesto
The best chicken salad starts with a really good, quick homemade pesto. We're still in peak summer, when fresh herbs continue to be piled high at the farmers market. They're easy to come by, packed with flavor, and can be had without killing your food budget.
This version relies on basil with a handful or arugula thrown in, but don't feel you have to stick with this combination. Any herbs or leafy greens can be swapped in. Maybe the very best pesto is more about convenience and made from what you have on hand. Or if the very best pesto for you is a store-bought version, go ahead and grab a jar instead. Because at the end of the day, a really fantastic pesto sauce is what makes this chicken salad shine.
The Best Pesto Chicken Salad
For the pesto:
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 packed cup arugula
1 tablespoon toasted nuts, such as pine nuts, walnuts, or cashews
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon white miso paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the chicken salad:
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup basil pesto
For serving (optional):
4 Bibb or butter lettuce leaves
1 medium tomato, sliced
Make the pesto: Place the basil, arugula, nuts, cheese, garlic, and miso paste in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or blender. Process until the ingredients are finely chopped, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil and lemon juice, blending until the pesto is uniform; set aside.
Make the chicken salad: Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the chicken breasts by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer until the chicken is opaque through the middle and an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat registers 165°F, 8 to 12 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board or large plate and use two forks to shred the meat while still warm. Cool completely.
Place the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, mayonnaise, and pesto in a large bowl and stir until well-combined. Serve immediately in sandwich rolls with lettuce and tomato if desired or refrigerate.
- Make ahead: The pesto can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Storage: Store the chicken salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.