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Sautéed Chicken with
Pecan-Parmesan Crust
By Charlie Burke

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Chicken breasts are low in fat, which is good nutritionally, but this also
means they can become dry when cooked, especially when they are
skinless and boned. For this reason, they are frequently dipped in flour
and beaten eggs before being coated with bread crumbs to not only add a
flavored crust but also to seal in moisture. Unfortunately, this coating
absorbs the oil or butter in which they are fried, negating the low fat
advantage of the lean chicken.

Currently, the definitive book outlining healthy eating is “Eat, Drink and
be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating,”
authored by Walter C. Willett, M.D., Chairman of Department of
Nutrition at the Harvard Medical School and Professor of Medicine at
Harvard Medical School (Published by Free Press, A Division of Simon
Schuster, NY, NY). It presents scientific evidence regarding a healthy diet
and debunks many dietary myths and fad diets. Easy to read and full of
substantive dietary information, it is the one book that should be in the
library of anyone serious about maintaining a healthy diet.

Nuts are Healthy

Dr. Willett’s food pyramid is rationally presented, with exercise being the
base. In it, he suggests eating legumes and nuts three times a day.
Although nuts are relatively high in fats, these are primarily unsaturated
which lower LDL and keep HDL high, which is the healthy ratio for
cholesterol. An ounce of most nuts has the same 8 grams of protein as a
glass of milk. Additionally, studies have shown that individuals who
regularly eat nuts have less risk of heart attack and cardiac death. Several
large cohort studies have repeatedly shown a 30% - 50% lower incidence
in heart attack and cardiac disease associated with eating nuts several
times a week, and there seems to be a lowering of risk for diabetes and
gall bladder disease, as well.

We’ve been adding nuts to our diet at breakfast and in salads, and I’ve
been experimenting with using ground nuts to replace breading for meat
and fish. The natural oil in the nuts, I’ve found, prevent the food from
sticking, permitting much less oil to be used. Additionally, the nuts add
flavor to the dish. In this recipe, I chose pecans to pair with chicken and
added a small amount of Parmesan cheese. I’ve used almonds with
grated lemon rind with fish with excellent results (I’ve become convinced
by the Italians to never serve cheese with fish). I usually sauté over high
heat, but nuts will burn at this temperature, so I use a heavy bottomed
pan over medium heat, which leaves a rich brown crust.

Two servings:

2 medium chicken breast halves (4 – 6 ounces)
1/3 cup ground pecans
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Peanut or olive oil sufficient to film the pan

Mix the ground pecans and Parmesan cheese and put onto a plate.
Lightly season the fillets with salt and pepper. Push both sides of the
chicken breasts into the ground nuts and then press any of the nut mix
left on the bowl into the chicken.

Heat a thick non stick or conventional sauté pan over medium heat.
When hot, film the pan with olive oil or peanut oil and carefully lay
chicken breasts into the pan. Do not move the chicken until it appears
that half of the breast is cooked. Slide a spatula under the chicken and
turn them. Again, do not disturb them until done to an internal
temperature of 155 degrees or the chicken is just opaque in the thickest

Remove to a warmed plate and let sit for five minutes. Serve with your
choice of vegetables and salad.

These nut coatings are quite versatile. Pork coated with ground hazelnuts
with a little mustard and, perhaps chopped sage would be a good match,
and lamb chops with ground pistachios and marjoram or thyme are
another pairing, and any white fish fillet will gain subtle flavor prepared
in this manner. So, try this technique to add a healthy dose of nuts to
your diet and flavor to your family’s meals.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the
vice president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of
NH Farm to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH)
Farmers' Market.  Along with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic
herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Chicken with Pecans
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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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