Jalapeno Chicken Salad Wraps with Spicy Pecans

Jalapeno Chicken Salad Lettuce WrapsLast week in Wichita Falls, I had a ton of help from Sera Daugherty and Stacie Curd, who operate a catering company called Bistro Express. I realized sometime during the preparation for the speaking engagement for the Wichita Falls Symphony League that I could not, in fact, speak to 170 people AND feed them. I also realized that since I am just a home cook, I might not even be allowed to do so legally. So, basically, Bistro Express saved the day and made all of the food for the event using my recipes. Incidentally, I’m good at sizing chef’s recipes DOWN to family size from crowd size, but I am not necessarily good sizing recipes UP from family size to crowd size. Sera and Stacy made the tuna tartare, lobster bites, whole grain mustard and sour cream sauce for the hot smoked salmon, handled the service and generally made my life simple…or at least more simple.

One of the many lovely things they did was feed me lunch on a day when I was running about like a headless chicken. They had made a huge tray of Sour Cream and Chicken Enchiladas for another event and sent me home to work on my speech with a plate of enchiladas to strengthen me. They were amazing. I’ve been thinking of them ever since. Yesterday, instead of making hot enchiladas, I was inspired by their dish to try a “cold enchilada” wrapped in a lettuce leaf. You see, one does not get very healthy “testing” Texas cheeses, honey, caviar, smoked salmon and the like. This is what resulted. I got a round of compliments from my family and decided to pass it along to you.

Jalapeno Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps brineThe technique for cooking the chicken is one I found in Cook’s Illustrated. Essentially, you bring the chicken to a low simmer, (175 degrees or so), turn off the heat, and allow the chicken to poach in the hot water until it is perfectly cooked. This works best with breasts that aren’t more than about 1¼ inches thick. Make sure to check the chicken with a thermometer (160 degrees) or by cutting into it before removing it from the water. The water cools and the chicken heats up, so if you don’t check it at the right moment, the thermometer will throw you off, as the chicken eventually begins to cool in the water. I brined the chicken first. I like to do that to help keep the chicken tender. It is especially helpful if you are not able to get the highest quality chicken. This chicken was Bell & Evans air chilled chicken which likely didn’t need the boost, but I did it anyway. It is a good habit. Chicken can be unpredictable, and brining lowers the chance of you ending up with tough meat.

Recipe for Jalapeno Chicken Salad Wraps: (4 to 5 servings)


Chicken and Brine:
1½ pound chicken breasts
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup table salt
½ gallon water

Sour Cream Sauce:
½ cup sour cream
1 heaping teaspoon minced jalapenos
1 teaspoon minced serranos
6 green onions, white and light green parts only
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons lime juice

Pico de Gallo:
1 pint grape tomatoes
6 green onions, white and light green parts only
1 heaping teaspoon minced jalapeño
1 teaspoon minced serranos
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons lime juice

Spicy Pecans:
½ cup chopped pecans
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder

10 leaves butter lettuce

Jalapeno Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps mixing


1. To brine the chicken breasts, dissolve the salt and sugar in a half gallon of water in a resealable plastic bag. Place the bag in a large bowl to keep it from spilling. Place the chicken breasts in the water, place the bowl in the refrigerator, and allow the breasts to sit in the brine for 30 minutes.

2. Remove the breasts from the bag and submerge them in a shallow pan of water. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the chicken breasts to sit in the water for 17 minutes. Check the chicken for doneness. Remove the chicken breasts from the water and allow them to cool on a plate.   Using two forks shred the chicken into bite-size bits. (Feel free to use your favorite chicken poaching method as long as you end up with 4 cups of shredded chicken).

3. Meanwhile, mix the sour cream, lime juice, jalapeños, serranos, green onions, kosher salt and cumin in a bowl. Add the sour cream mixture to the shredded chicken. Stir to combine and place in the refrigerator to chill.

4. To make the pico de gallo, chop the tomatoes coarsely and allow them to drain on a paper towel. Combine the tomatoes onions jalapeños, serranos lime juice, and kosher salt in a small bowl.

Jalapeno Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps pico and pecans5. Melt the butter in a nonstick pan. Add the pecans and sauté for one minute. Mix the spices in a small bowl and add them to the cooking pecans. Stir and cook for an additional two minutes, being careful to keep the pecans from burning. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.

6. To serve, place approximately 1/2 cup of the chicken salad mixture on a lettuce leaf. Top with pico de gallo and spiced pecans.

Poppy on ChickenPoppy always knows when I’m chopping chicken or cutting the crusts of PB&J’s. She hasn’t missed one episode. I don’t know if it is the scent emanating from the kitchen or the sound of the knife on my cutting board, but within seconds of being dead asleep back in my bedroom, I’ll hear her clickity clackety running to the kitchen for a treat…every time. This is what a dog looks like praying to God that something falls off the counter. Good Dog!

Great news! The Spring Issue of Edible Dallas & Fort Worth is out now. I have an article on The State of Dairy in Texas (click title for pdf online version) as well as an article about a Food Swappers group in this issue, along with photos and recipes. Pick one up at Whole Foods, Celebration, or Northaven Gardens…or subscribe here. Here are spots where you can pick up a free copy if you are in town.


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