NUT-CRUSTED CHICKEN BREASTS

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Adding chopped nuts to a coating is a great way to add robust flavor to otherwise lean and mild boneless, skinless chicken breasts. But nut coatings are often dense and leaden, and the rich flavor of the nuts rarely comes through. Using a combination of chopped almonds and panko bread crumbs—rather than all nuts—kept the coating light and crunchy, and the bread crumbs helped the coating adhere. Instead of frying the breaded breasts, we found that baking them in the oven was not only easier but also helped the meat stay juicy and ensured an even golden crust. But it wasn’t until we cooked the coating in browned butter prior to breading the chicken that we finally achieved the deep nutty flavor we sought.

SERVES 4

This recipe is best with almonds but works well with any type of nut. We prefer kosher salt in this recipe. If using table salt, reduce salt amounts by half.

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed and breasts trimmed
Kosher salt
1 cup almonds, chopped coarse
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons finely grated zest from 1 lemon, zested lemon cut into wedges
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Using a fork, poke the thickest half of the breasts 5 to 6 times and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Transfer the breasts to the prepared wire rack and refrigerate, uncovered, while preparing the coating.

2. Pulse the almonds in a food processor until they resemble coarse meal, about 20 pulses. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until the butter is browned and releases a nutty aroma, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the shallot and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the bread crumbs and ground almonds and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the panko mixture to a shallow dish or pie plate and stir in the lemon zest, thyme, and cayenne. Place the flour in a second dish. Lightly beat the eggs, mustard, and black pepper together in a third dish.

3. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Working with one breast at a time, dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess, then coat with the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Coat all sides of the breast with the panko mixture, pressing gently so that the crumbs adhere. Return the breaded breasts to the wire rack.

4. Bake until the chicken registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving with the lemon wedges.

Nut-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Orange and Oregano

This version works particularly well with pistachios or hazelnuts.

Follow the recipe for Nut-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Thyme, substituting 1 teaspoon orange zest for the lemon zest (reserving the orange wedges for the garnish) and 1 teaspoon oregano for the thyme.

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