We received a lovely surprise the other day.
A huge box of fresh pecans in the shell from our wonderful friends in Texas.
Trying to figure out how we could use them up before they went bad, we discovered that pecans freeze very well in the shell – up to four years!
These are ready for the freezer – now, what to make with the half-pound we’re not freezing? We don’t eat a lot of sweets (certainly not pecan pie), so…
how about using the pecans to bread some chicken?
First, we have to shell them. We soaked the whole pecans to soften the shell.
Take a nut cracker and start at one end. Crack lightly, rotate the pecan a quarter turn and crack it in the middle. Rotate it again and crack the other end. The shell will break into pieces much like a hard boiled egg, making it easier to pull off the shell pieces.
We started with a little over 1/2 pound of pecans and ended up with 1-1/4 cups of shelled pieces. You can tell our shelling technique improved – towards the end of the process, we were getting whole halves instead of a bunch of little pieces. Toast them in the oven until they are dry and golden brown. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
By the way, save the shells. They work great in the smoker for pecan flavored smoke (nope, we don’t waste anything).
Now, we’re ready to cook. Smush a scant 1 cup of pecans into small pieces. We used the handle end of a hammer to crush them. I suppose you could use a food processor or some other chopping device, but we were afraid they would come out too fine a texture – we wanted a coarser crumb crust.
Mix the pecans with a scant 1/2 cup of plain panko crumbs. You can use bread crumbs, but the panko crumbs make the coating crunchier and they are about the same size as the pecan pieces. Add about a teaspoon (or to taste) dried rosemary, finely minced. Basil might be nice, too.
Dip a boneless chicken breast in beaten egg, then into the coating mix. Pat it on firmly.
Once the chicken breasts are breaded, let them stand until the coating dries. This will help it stick during the cooking process.
Saute the chicken (we used canola oil) until lightly browned, being careful not to burn the coating. Burnt pecans are very bitter.
Once the chicken is lightly browned on both sides, place on a rack and finish cooking them in a 350° oven until done (about 20-25 minutes). We drizzled them with an orange-honey mustard sauce and some orange zest. Next time, we’ll add the orange zest to the coating mix, but we were afraid it might burn and get bitter like the pecans.
The sauce was very simple – about 1/4 cup of honey mustard, a small spoon of Honeycup mustard (for some spice – optional, but good), the juice of an orange, and chicken broth to thin to whatever consistency you want.
The chicken came out very tender and juicy. With a side of basmati/wild rice and green beans, this was an excellent restaurant-quality meal and cost about $1.00 a plate!