I am a devotee of the transformative powers of buttermilk. It makes chicken tender and biscuits light. Cakes have a fine crumb and dressings a nice tang. I use buttermilk whenever I can, and I go out of my way to buy the best, farm-fresh buttermilk available. I make biscuits of all sorts, marinate chicken for frying and whip up desserts galore, from Buttermilk Pie to Buttermilk Cake. People sometimes ask me for ideas about what to do with leftover buttermilk, and I always wonder to myself “who has leftover buttermilk?” Buttermilk is Southern liquid gold.
This recipe started as just a little something I would whip up for myself when I had buttermilk in the fridge (which I almost always do). Over time, I refined it to a company-worthy dish and added a creamy gravy spiked with fresh herbs to jazz things up a bit. I love the crispy coating on the extra tender chicken, and appreciate the simple cooking method. No grease splatters with this one. And quite by accident, I have discovered that this chicken is absolutely delicious at room temperature, so it would work beautifully for a picnic.
Buttermilk Pecan Crusted Chicken with Herb Cream Gravy
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups pecans
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
4 – 5 sprigs fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon mustard powder
Generous grinds black pepper
For the Gravy:
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh leafy herbs – a combo of parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, marjoram, whatever you have to hand
Salt and pepper to taste
Pat the chicken breasts dry and place between two sheets of waxed paper. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound the breasts until about ½ their original thickness. Bash away, it’s a good stress reliever. Cut each piece in half and place in a bowl. Pour over the buttermilk and swish everything around to make sure all the meat is covered. Place in the fridge to marinate for at least 1 hour, but as many as eight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°. Place a rack on a rimmed baking sheet and spray with cooking spray.
Place the pecans, bread crumbs, parsley and spices in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground, like breadcrumbs. Turn the coating onto a large, flat plate. Take the chicken from the fridge. Remove one piece at a time, shake of the buttermilk and press into the pecan mixture. Turn to coat the pieces all over, fully pressing the crumbs onto the chicken. Place each piece on the rack and finish the rest of the pieces.
Bake the chicken for 20 minutes, until it is crispy, browned and cooked through.
For the Gravy:
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle over the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the milk slowly, whisking and scraping the sides of the pan. Cook until the gravy is thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the finely chopped herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves 3 – 6, depending on how hungry folks are (One piece is plenty for me, but hearty eaters might want two)