cookbook review & a recipe: buttermilk pecan chicken

I must confess that I didn’t know who Claire Robinson was until I received a review copy of her cookbook, 5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes in the mail recently. The only Food Network show that I watch if I find it on is Barefoot Contessa. And, truthfully, the only time I ever watch that channel is when I’m working out at the gym on the treadmill or stationery bike or elliptical machine. Weird, I know.

This book intrigued me for two reasons. First, Claire Robinson is from Jacksonville, about an hour and a half north of here. I love discovering locals who’ve become famous. The other reason the book caught my eye is the whole five ingredient thing. Ease is important to me, especially during the work week when life gets pretty hectic. Since my husband and I both work full time, we need all the help we can get.

Claire Robinson describes her 5 ingredient philosophy early on in the cookbook. She believes that each ingredient should stand out, and they will if we cook with ingredients which are at their peak (that is, pumpkins in the fall, corn in summer, and so on). In her words, “When your ingredients are good, there’s no need to muddle the flavor with unnecessary add-ons.”

The recipes are a nice mix of eclectic dishes, but it’s clear that she’s got one foot still in the south. I love seeing dishes like the Smoky Collard Greens or the Stone Ground Grits with Gruy√®re in the chapter next to the Sake and Lemongrass Steamed Sea Bass. There’s even a cocktail chapter, and what’s not to like about that? There are dishes that sound perfect for entertaining and showing off – like the Whole Striped Bass Baked in Salt or the Duck Breasts with Citrus-Port Cherry Sauce – and dishes which seem just right for Sunday dinners at home with the family – like the Claire’s Carbonara or Sunday Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy.

And if I haven’t made my point clear already, I really am a fan of any cookbook with a recipe for grits.

The food photography throughout is gorgeous, but I wish there were more of it. Many of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photos, but not all of them. I used my imagination, and that’s okay. I’ve got a pretty good one.

I tested out the Buttermilk Pecan Chicken recipe since I happened to have all five ingredients on hand one Sunday afternoon. It seemed like something my kids – and my husband – would go for.

Over to the side of each recipe, the author has a section where she lists two things – “What makes this recipe really sing” and “What to toss in if you have it.” I really like this aspect of the cookbook. The first gives the reason behind why the recipe is special. The second gives some ideas on how to jazz up the recipe with an addition or two.

For the Buttermilk Pecan Chicken recipe, the suggestion is some lemon zest in the breading or some hot sauce in the buttermilk marinade. I used some lemon zest in the breading since I happened to have a lemon in the fridge. My husband may have liked the hot sauce, but I wasn’t sure how the kids would like it, so I didn’t go that route.

I also chose not to pan fry the chicken breasts. I did this for two reasons. First, we were having a really nice time playing outside that day, and I wanted to use the 30 minutes oven-baking time to spend time with my kids in the back yard. Second, I wanted to keep this recipe a little on the healthier side to balance out the incredibly NOT healthy macaroni and cheese I served with it.

The chicken was good, but I’m sure it would have been better – crispier – if I’d pan fried it. I loved the fact that it was so simple to prepare, and the buttermilk really did make the chicken moist and tender. I’ll give it another go, and I’ll pan fry it next time to compare the flavors.

Yield: 4 servings

Buttermilk Pecan Chicken

I chose to oven-bake mine rather than pan fry. If you choose to oven-bake, be sure to salt and pepper the chicken breasts prior to baking.

Ingredients:

4 8-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup toasted pecans
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and gently flatten it with a meat mallet or heavy, flat object to an even 1/3-inch thick. Marinate the chicken in buttermilk for 1 hour in refrigerator.

In food processor, pulse the pecans and panko together until fine. Transfer the mixture to a large rimmed dish. Remove the marinated chicken breasts from the buttermilk and shake off any excess. Dip the chicken in the breading mixture, evenly coating both sides.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Working in two batches, add the breaded chicken breasts and shallow fry 4 to 5 minutes on each side until golden in color. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel-lined plate; season with salt and pepper immediately and serve.

Note: If you'd rather not fry the chicken breasts, place them on a lightly greased baking dish and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 375 degrees.

What to toss in if you have it: Claire Robinson suggests adding a splash or two of hot sauce to the buttermilk to give the chicken a nice heat. Grated lemon zest stirred into the pecan and panko breading mixture brightens up the dish as well.

Reprinted with permission from Claire Robinson's 5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes.


Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook to review from the publisher, Hachette Book Group.