Classic Pistou Recipe

A Bright, Quick, Flavorful Sauce

Pistou resembles its better known cousin. Like pesto it is built on a base of basil and olive oil, but while it sometimes contains cheese, it does not include nuts. In this recipe I keep it very simple – fresh basil, peppery olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. The result is a sauce that is not as well suited to pasta, but it is a superior counterpoint to pork, chicken thighs, or flavorful fish like salmon. Pistou is also traditionally served as the final, last minute addition to Soupe au Pistou, a rich minestrone-like bean soup.

Because pistou is so simple, the quality of the ingredients really matters. Use a high quality olive oil, fresh basil, and you will get a delicious result. Be careful not to overdo the garlic. Err on the side of less if you are at all unsure. The lemon is optional, but I really appreciate the note of acidity it adds.

Pestle or Processor?

Traditionally, pistou is made in a mortar and pestle, patiently ground into a fine, smooth sauce. This is delicious, no doubt, but it is also laborious. A food processor does the job faster, but even this is unnecessary for most applications. Finely chopping everything up with a sharp knife and simply stirring it together in a bowl yields a much coarser texture, but the flavor combination is every bit as tasty as a finer sauce would be when served with a reverse sear pork chop or other cut of meat.

Why This Recipe Works

While novel recipes are fun, there’s something great about preparations that have stood the test of time. Basically all the processed food that makes up so much of the Standard American Diet relies on sugar, artificial flavorings, and other wizardry to mask the fact that it consists primarily of bland, cheap calories.

Pistou is the exact opposite of this. It is dead simple, and it stands or falls entirely on the quality of the ingredients that go into it. I try to bring the same values to producing pastured pork and everything else I raise; if you buy pork chops, I want them to be the best you’ve ever had. A sauce like pistou is a perfect addition to the experience to a meal of real food, not a distraction.

Classic Pistou

Bright basil, warm olive oil, and a zing of lemon and garlic combine for an absolutely sublime sauce.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine French
Keyword sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Servings 4


  • 2 cups basil leaves loosely packed
  • 1 small clove garlic minced
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice


  • Combine garlic, lemon juice, and salt in a mortar or a food processor. Let sit for 5 minutes
  • Add remaining ingredients. If using mortar and pestle crush thoroughly. If using food processor, pulse until basil leaves are well chopped but not pureed.
  • Serve over pork chops, chicken thighs, salmon, eggs, or just about anything else.

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