This was my answer to my internal dialogue wherein I asked myself if I was really going to make plain chicken breasts again for dinner. I gazed out my kitchen window and I also chided myself for not having used any of my fresh basil plants which I have kept alive through sheer force of will throughout the summer. I have pinched it and watered it and talked to it, but I haven’t really cooked with it. So, while I was giving myself a hard time about these things, the skeleton for this recipe emerged in my mind.
Breaded baked chicken dishes are usually disappointing unless you are a master fryer. They never seem to get crisp on the bottom and often end up soggy. Plus, grilling or pan sautéing chicken is so quick and handy. The trick was to combine the two…and use my basil.
So, my mind turned to the idea of preparing a crunchy topping instead of a messy breading and I came up with the idea for a savory granola. This recipe makes twice as much as you need for a four person meal. But I detest the notion of using “half” of a separated egg. This is not exactly logical but, you will find a million different ways to use this topping…basically on any meat for which you would like a breading but don’t want to fool with the mess of frying. It also makes a stellar casserole topping and, in fact, I used it for a crunch topping for a tuna noodle casserole and it was just perfect. It is simply a great and easy “All Purpose Crunchy Topping.”
So, if you are facing mutiny at the dinner table for serving plain chicken breasts again, your first job is to tell the bumptious nuts that they are more than welcome to take you out to dinner. Then, after you have considered putting your kids and spouse in a big box and shipping them off to the circus…and thought better of it…consider this twist on grilled chicken. And, I’ll come up with some other recipes for you to use the other half of the savory granola.
½ cup rolled multigrain cereal or rolled oats
½ cup finely ground bread crumbs
⅓ cup chopped pecans
1 egg white
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Chicken & Basil Sauce:
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
⅛ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
1. For the topping, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying it lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Combine the rolled grains, bread crumbs and chopped pecans in a bowl. In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg white until it is bubbly. Add the olive oil and honey to the egg white and whisk to combine. Add the parsley, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add the egg mixture to the grain mixture and stir it with a fork, ensuring that the grain mixture is evenly moistened. Place the grain mixture on the cookie sheet and spread it into a thin layer. Bake for 10 minutes and then stir. Bake until the topping is golden brown and dry, approximately an additional 10 to 13 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to burn. Remove the topping from the oven and allow it to cool.
2. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before cooking it. If needed, pound the breasts out to a thickness of about ¾ inches so that they will cook evenly. Season the breasts with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook them on a heated grill pan or non-stick skillet until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a foil covered plate to rest for at least 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the basil oil by combining the fresh basil and olive oil in a small food processer or a small bowl into which you can fit an immersion blender. Process the oil and basil until the basil is mostly smooth. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and set aside.
4. To plate the dish, place one breast on each plate. Top the chicken with a heaping tablespoon of crumbled goat cheese and then two tablespoons of the crunchy topping. Drizzle each serving with a tablespoon or more of the basil oil.
You can place the basil oil on the table with a serving spoon in case anyone wants a bit more.
The size of chicken breast you choose is not really an issue here. Choose what you are comfortable cooking. I was making lunch for these photos and I chose “cutlets” which are basically breasts that have been butterflied and laid open to look like a flat whole breast, when in fact it is simply a half breast, split. Note, a breast is technically both sides. A half breast is one side. And a cutlet is generally a half breast, split open. Cutlets are nice because they cook evenly and easily in a pan indoors. But if you are grilling outdoors or feel comfortable cooking thicker breasts, do so by all means. You can also buy thicker breasts and whack them a few times to make them a little less tall on one end. I really despise having one end dry as leather and the other end raw. But for the chicken in the photos, I cooked the cutlet (which may appear to be a whole breast) and I split that in half for two servings.
Basil pesto and basil oils of this nature will start to darken fairly quickly after making them. So I recommend doing the crunchy topping ahead of time to save a few minutes if you need to, but the basil oil as you cook the chicken.