Every Southerner has a story to tell about pimiento cheese, the "caviar of the South." It's a simple cheese spread made primarily with Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and jarred pimiento peppers, but if you're from the South, it's likely to hold a special place in your heart.
Most people I know who were raised south of the Mason-Dixon Line have similar memories of a crock filled with homemade pimiento (also spelled pimento) cheese, sitting on their kitchen table with a sleeve of crackers to snack on after school, or slathered on soft white bread for lunch.
As basic as this dish is, if you're a Southerner, it's likely to play a pivotal role in your food memories.
My friend Maggie Lyon, a Twin Cities recipe developer, food blogger and transplanted Mississippian, whose recipe for pimiento cheese is legend in our social circle, talks about how her grandparents' decision to grow peppers in their vegetable garden prompted her mother to begin making this iconic dish at home.
"They decided to grow jalapeño peppers, which my mother pickled and used in her pimiento cheese," says Lyon. "It was the first time I ever thought about where an ingredient came from and how that made a difference in how food tasted." This revelation led to a lifelong love of cooking, as well as a quest for the perfect version of the Southern cheese spread.
Much like potato salad, deviled eggs and any number of other comfort food classics, the perfect version usually tastes a lot like the one your mother made.
"Some people like cream cheese in theirs" says Lyon," but my mother didn't use it and I don't think it adds much flavor, so I leave it out."
What she puts in is loads of extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, along with Colby cheese, which is softer and milder in flavor. A generous amount of mayonnaise is added with a touch of mustard, Worcestershire sauce, diced pimientos, cayenne and, of course, pickled jalapeños, before being vigorously beaten with a mixer, which gives it the desired creaminess. The result is a perfectly balanced cheese spread with just enough heat to be interesting.
This recipe makes a lot, which is fine, as there's no end to what you can do with it. Use it in a grilled pimiento cheese sandwich, as a filling for finger sandwiches (you'll be a hit at your next tea party), slathered on a cracker or stuffed inside crispy breaded chicken breasts, as we've done with this Pimiento Cheese-Stuffed Crispy Chicken and Green Bean Sheet-Pan Dinner.
No matter how you use it, it's sure to become a family favorite. After all, you don't need to be from the South to make a few memories over a crock of cheese spread.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.
Pimiento Cheese-Stuffed Crispy Chicken and Green Bean Sheet-Pan Dinner
Note: Boneless chicken breasts are stuffed with an ultra-flavorful homemade pimiento cheese, breaded and baked until crispy along with lemon-scented green beans for an easy and delicious Southern meal. Panko breadcrumbs are larger and lighter than the traditional crumb, which could be substituted. Browning the panko crumbs before breading the chicken ensures an extra crispy, evenly browned breast. From Meredith Deeds.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a large rimmed baking sheet pan with oil.
In 12-inch skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs; cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Transfer to shallow bowl. Let cool.
Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cut pocket in each chicken breast by making a horizontal slit along thin long edge, being careful to not cut through to opposite side. Stuff each pocket with 3 tablespoons of pimiento cheese. Press edges of chicken together to seal.
In a shallow bowl, stir together flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
In a shallow bowl, mix eggs and 2 tablespoons water with whisk. Coat both sides of chicken with flour mixture. Dip chicken into beaten eggs; turn to coat. Dredge in browned breadcrumbs, coating completely. If there are any breadcrumbs left in bowl, pat them on top of chicken breasts to cover any bare spots.
In a medium bowl, combine the green beans, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and the lemon zest.
Place chicken breasts on sheet pan. Bake 10 minutes. Add the green beans to the sheet pan with the chicken and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center (at least 165 degrees) and green beans are tender.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 620 Fat 37 g Sodium 930 mg
Carbohydrates 25 g Saturated fat 11 g Added sugars 1 g
Protein 46 g Cholesterol 190 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 ½ starch, 6 medium-fat protein, 1 fat.
Makes about 4 cups.
Note: When not using this pimiento mixture to stuff chicken breasts or fill grilled cheese sandwiches, Maggie Lyon often adds a couple of tablespoons of liquid from the pickled jalapeños, along with a splash of lemon juice to her pimiento cheese. It makes the spread slightly looser, with a bit more heat and acidity. Adapted from Maggie Lyon's blog Rampsshellsandcheese.com
In a medium bowl, combine the mayo, mustard, Worcestershire, pimientos, jalapeños, onions, cayenne and paprika. Add the cheeses and beat with a mixer on low for 30 seconds to combine, then increase the speed to medium-high and mix for 2 to 3 minutes until creamy. Chill for 3 hours.
Nutrition information per 1 tablespoon:
Calories 70 Fat 7 g Sodium 105 mg
Carbohydrates 1 g Saturated fat 3 g Added sugars 0 g
Protein 3 g Cholesterol 13 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ fat.