Nut-Crusted Chicken Breasts

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 cutlets, 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.

S E RV E S 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, trimmed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup almonds, chopped coarse
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest,
  • zested lemon cut into wedges
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

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

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

3. Pat chicken dry with paper towels.  Working with 1 breast at a time, dredge in flour, shaking off excess, then coat with egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off.  Coat all sides of breast with panko mixture, pressing gently so that crumbs adhere.  Return breaded breasts to wire rack.

4. Bake until chicken registers 160 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.

This version works particularly well with pistachios or hazelnuts.  Substitute 1 teaspoon grated orange zest for lemon zest (cutting zested orange into wedges) and 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano for thyme.

This version works particularly well with peanuts.  Substitute 1 teaspoon grated lime zest for lemon zest (cutting zested lime into wedges). Omit thyme and add 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, and ½ teaspoon ground coriander to toasted panko along with lime zest.

Substitute 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped, for almonds. Cook 2 finely chopped slices bacon in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon and transfer to paper towel–lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat left in skillet. Reduce butter to 2 tablespoons and melt in fat left in skillet over medium heat before adding shallot. Increase shallots to 2. Omit lemon zest and lemon wedges and substitute 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley for thyme. Add crisp bacon to toasted panko along with parsley.


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