Juicy mozzarella-stuffed chicken breasts filled with melted cheese and pesto sauce. The pieces are seared and then baked to perfection for maximum flavor. It’s an easy dinner served with a creamy tomato sauce, made all in one pan!
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Are you tired of the same chicken dinners on repeat? Look no further than this irresistible low-carb recipe for mozzarella-stuffed chicken breast! Made with simple ingredients and a few pantry staples for quick and easy preparation.
The chicken is filled with an herbaceous pesto sauce and slices of gooey mozzarella. The meat is pan-seared and gently finished in the oven to develop a flavorful crust to ensure juicy bites. I’ll show you how to make a creamy tomato sauce with the savory juices left in the pan. Serve with vegetables or pair with your favorite pasta for a complete Italian feast.
- Chicken: Use boneless skinless chicken breasts between 8 to 12 ounces in size. The smaller the piece, the faster it will cook, and the less cheese will fit in the pocket.
- Cheese: Use whole milk mozzarella cheese, the ones pressed into a firm ball so it’s easy to slice. Cut the pieces into halves so that they fit neatly inside the chicken. Use 1 to 2 ounces per breast.
- Pesto: Try my basil pesto sauce for the most aromatic and robust flavor. It combines fresh basil, pinenuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. Alternatively, refrigerated options sold at the grocery store will give the closest taste because they are jarred and heat-treated.
- Tomato Sauce: Use my homemade marinara sauce recipe or store-bought sauce if short on time. You’ll need 2 cups.
- Cream (optional): Heavy whipping cream adds a rich texture to the marinara sauce.
Prepare the chicken
Use a sharp knife to butterfly the chicken open to create a pocket to add the filling. Keep one side intact to hold the piece together. Season the surface with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. This helps to enhance the savory taste of the poultry.
Stuff the chicken
Add 1 generous tablespoon of pesto to the inside of the butterflied chicken. Top with two halved slices of mozzarella. Fold the piece over, then secure the edges with a toothpick to keep the filling locked in.
It’s okay if you don’t seal it, but the cheese will ooze out more as the protein shrinks during cooking. One ounce of cheese fits nicely into the pocket, but you can add two ounces, knowing some will seep out.
Sear the chicken
I use a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pan or Dutch oven to cook the chicken. Pan-sear the chicken in hot olive oil until both sides are golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. This creates a stunning and tasty crust. Check the temperature of the chicken; if it reaches 160 to 165 degrees, it does not need to be further baked.
If you don’t have a pan that can be placed in a hot oven, transfer the chicken to a foil-lined sheet pan to finish cooking. Smaller pieces between 8 to 9 ounces may cook quicker than larger ones.
If using substantial pieces of chicken, 10 to 12 ounces in size, it will need to be further baked to gently complete the cooking process. This prevents the meat from drying out in the hot pan. Add the seared chicken pieces to an oven set at 375ºF (191ºC).
Bake until the thickest part of the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate and cover while you make the sauce.
Make the sauce
After searing and baking the chicken, there will be delicious pan drippings. Don’t let it go to waste! To make a quick tomato sauce, add two cups of marinara sauce. I like using it because it’s already thickened with tomato paste and seasoned. Simmer the sauce for a few minutes until it’s hot.
Turn off the heat and stir in heavy whipping cream. This is optional, but it will transform it into a luxurious texture. Serve the chicken with the tomato sauce and garnish with freshly sliced basil.
This mozzarella-stuffed chicken recipe is easy to customize! Try these tasty swaps when you make your next batch:
- Cheese: Use grated mozzarella or fresh mozzarella for a caprese-style chicken. Add smoked mozzarella or soft buffalo mozzarella. Add in parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano for a nutty, saltier, and sharper flavor. Add brie for a buttery flavor.
- Herbs: Swap out the pesto sauce with freshly chopped herbs like oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and basil. For an extra concentrated flavor, sprinkle Italian seasoning over the cheese.
- Vegetables: Fill with sauteed spinach, kale, mushrooms, roasted bell peppers, caramelized onions, or sundried tomatoes.
- Sauce: Instead of a marinara sauce, try a mushroom gravy or alfredo sauce.
- Bread Crumbs: Make a crispy crust by dredging the stuffed chicken in flour, egg, and bread crumbs—Pan-fry until crispy, just like my stuffed chicken parmesan.
- Your favorite type of pasta
- Garlic bread
- Rosemary focaccia
- Caesar salad
- Spaghetti squash
- Zucchini noodles
Frequently asked questions
Besides salt and pepper, try garlic powder, onion powder, sweet or smoked paprika, chile powder, cayenne, or chipotle. Alternatively, use a chicken marinade for extra seasoning and juiciness before stuffing.
Sure! Smoked gouda, gruyere, swiss, brie, pepperjack, and cheddar are all great options. As long as the cheese melts together when heated, it is a good substitute for mozzarella.
The chicken breasts can be butterflied and stuffed with the pesto sauce and cheese up to 2 days before cooking. Refrigerate in an airtight container.
How to keep the mozzarella from melting out of the chicken while cooking
The muscle fibers naturally contract and shrink when cooked, causing some cheese to get pressed out as it melts. The best solution is to use about two toothpicks to seal the edges to reduce as much cheese from seeping out. It also helps to add the right amount of cheese. For an 8 to 10-ounce piece, 1 ounce of cheese works well. For larger 10 to 12 ounces breasts, use up to 2 ounces.
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Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Preheat to 375ºF (191ºC).
- Prepare the Chicken – Butterfly the chicken breast in half lengthwise, leaving about a ½-inch uncut area on the other side. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
- Season the Meat – In a small bowl, combine salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Evenly season each side of the chicken with the mixture.
- Stuff the Chicken – Evenly spread 1 tablespoon of pesto sauce into the pocket of each chicken breast. Add 2 slices of mozzarella on top. If available, close the opening with toothpicks to secure the filling inside.
- Sear the Chicken – Heat a large oven-proof skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil. Add the chicken, presentation-side down. Lightly press the meat to make contact with the pan. Cook until golden brown on the surface, about 5 to 7 minutes. Flip and cook for 5 minutes.If using smaller chicken breasts, check for doneness, as baking may not be needed.
- Transfer to the Oven – Place the pan in the oven and bake until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness.Transfer chicken to a clean plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Leave the juices in the pan.
- Make the Sauce – Don't touch the handle; it will still be hot from the oven! Heat the pan with the chicken juices over medium heat. Add the marinara sauce and simmer until hot, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the heavy cream.
- To Serve – Remove the toothpicks from the chicken. Serve with the creamy marinara sauce and garnish with basil.
- Cheesier Filling: Use 8 ounces of mozzarella, cut into 8 halved pieces.
- Make Ahead: The chicken can be stuffed 2 days in advance. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.
- Storing: Cool completely and store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Cover and reheat in the microwave on high heat in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
- Baking Directions: Place stuffed chicken on a greased foil-lined sheet pan. Bake at 425ºF (218ºC) for about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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