From the moment women leave the home, they are advised, “You’ll need a little black dress.” That dress is essential–it becomes your all purpose, go anywhere armor. I’ve got a recipe that serves the same purpose. Whether you dress it up or down, Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts with Pecan Crust is a crowd-pleaser for all occasions.

The original recipe is terrific and serves as a building block for a number of options. A few of my favorites include:
– As an entree, served plain or with a sauce (cream, lemon, or mango)
– Slice cooked chicken breasts and use them on top of salads or stuffed in a sandwich wrap
– For kid-friendly pieces, cut chicken breasts in strips, coat as instructed and bake (Keep an eye on them. For the smaller pieces, you may need to shorten the baking time.)
– Switch it up 1: Swap out the pecans for another nut (hazelnut, walnut, almond)
– Switch it up 2: Swap out the Panko for breadcrumbs, more nuts, or, for a tropical punch, try shredded coconut.

Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts with Pecan Crust
from Bon Appetit Y’all by Virginian Willis

Buttermilk brine with chicken

Brining, or soaking poultry in salted water before cooking, is the answer to dry, tasteless white meat and rubbery dark meat: brined poultry loses only half as much moisture during the cooking as unbrined. In this recipe, I use buttermilk instead of water for the brine. Buttermilk is traditional in some fried chicken recipes and has the added benefit of acting as a tenderizer. If doubling this recipe, do not double the amount of salt as the chicken will be too salty.

1/4 cup coarse salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
4 cups buttermilk
4 to 6 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 – 3 pounds)
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs or Panko
3/4 finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then set a large wire rack on the foil.

To make the brine
Combine the salt, sugar, paprika, garlic and bay leaves in a large nonreactive container. Add the buttermilk and stir until the salt is completely dissolved. Immerse the chicken breasts in the brine and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Do not brine any longer or refrigerate, or the chicken will be too salty.

Panko aka Japanese bread crumb found in the Ethnic isle of your grocery store or Asian market
Chopping pecans — keep going. You want them finely chopped

To make the coating
Combine the Panko and pecans in a shallow dish. Add the oil and toss well to coat. In a second shallow dish, combine the eggs, mustard and thyme. Season both mixtures with pepper.

Prepare
Working with one piece at a time, remove the chicken from the brine and shake off any excess liquid. Dip the chicken into the egg mixture, coating both sides. Place the breasts in the crumb mixture, sprinkle with crumbs to cover, and press so the coating adheres; turn the chicken over and repeat the process.

Set up your assembly line: Brined chicken, egg wash, pecan & panko coating. Outside of the shot, a baking sheet, prepped and ready to go.

Place the coated breasts on the rack and set on the baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is golden brown and the juices run clear, 20 to 25 minutes.

Simple dinner: pecan-crusted chicken and a salad
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