Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad

As the weather gets warmer, I try to have salads for dinner at least once per week. It just seems appropriate—warmer weather means eating less and “cooking” less. The problem is, though, that I’m not really a salad person (I’ll take the fat with a side of cholesterol, please), so to get myself to eat salads more I need to find ones that have something special to offer, such as a special ingredient or a phenomenal dressing. I usually like creamy dressings (I have a great mayo-based one—stay tuned for that), but vinaigrettes can be great, too.

In fact, a vinaigrette is what initially caught my attention about this pecan-crusted chicken salad. This salad is dressed with—are you ready?—caramel-citrus vinaigrette. As in, there’s actual caramel sauce right in the dressing. I used Smucker's Caramel Topping, which I think is meant for ice cream, and it was awesome! Not only is the dressing delicious on its own, but it’s a perfect accompaniment to the chicken, which is coated with a cinnamon-and-sugar pecan mixture. This is my kind of salad.

I changed the recipe just a bit. For the actual salad part I used romaine, cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions, but the original calls for mixed greens, tomato, and carrot, and that would be good, too. I made the dressing taste even more caramelly by using half as much olive oil as called for, and it was deliciously sweet, but not too much so. At least not for me.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
adapted from Pecan Crusted Chicken over Field Greens
Serves 4

For the chicken:

4 chicken breast halves, pounded to an even 1/2-inch thickness
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups crushed pecan pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon oil

For the greens:

2 hearts of romaine, chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced
2 small cucumbers, seeded and sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced

For the vinaigrette:

1/3 cup caramel sauce
2 teaspoons water
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lime, zested, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:

Place chicken and buttermilk in a plastic bag and allow to sit for 15 minutes up to overnight.

While chicken is marinating, combine pecans with spices and mix well. Place mixture into a shallow dish. Remove chicken and allow excess buttermilk to drain. Coat both sides of the chicken pieces with the pecan/spice mixture. Lightly press in to chicken.

Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Heat oil and, working in two batches, sauté chicken for about 4-5 minutes per side, making sure pecan coating has set before flipping. When chicken is done and has slightly cooled, slice and arrange over salad bed.

For the vinaigrette:

Combine the caramel sauce with water and citrus juices and whisk. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil, lime zest, if using, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.


Kevin said...

I never thought I would see sugar, cinnamon, pecans and caramel in a chicken salad, but it sounds really good!

Leah said...

Wow, that looks fabulous! I like to do main course salads too as the weather gets nicer....hopefully the weather actually WILL get nicer here someday! I'll definitely stay tuned for the mayo-based dressing you talked about, I just love creamy dressings. ;-)

Very pretty salad, nice job!

chriesi said...

It looks fantastic!

giz said...

Beautiful - I tried the Paula Deen pecan crusted chicken - so so - this one looks so much more interesting!!

Deborah said...

I really like salads, but find that I wake up starving in the morning if I have one for dinner!! This one sounds so interesting - caramel in the dressing? I'm bookmarking this one!

michelle @ TNS said...

caramel dressing? genius! and of course, the appeal of foods crusted in pecans is undeniable.

i think i would add some apples or grapes to my salad. yum!

~Madeline~ said...

I can't wait to try this. I've been trying to think of salad ideas to use up this HUGE bag of greens I have. This sounds perfect.

Vicarious Foodie said...

Thanks, everyone!

Michelle: I really like the idea of adding apples. Reminds me of a caramel apple, and I *adore* those.

Elle said...

Wow, this looks fabulous! I love the idea of the pecans and caramel. And oh yeah, apples would be spectacular in this.

noble pig said...

The mention of caramel in a salad has made me a little hot under the collar. Whew!

Catherine said...

Wow. I love your photos and the way you show it from start to finish. Your post has me wanting to make this recipe this weekend. I'll be checking back for more recipes.