Variety is the spice of life. It’s a truism even more so when it comes to cooking. When you think about what makes a meal good, usually an assortment of tastes, textures and colors comes to mind.

These words of wisdom are ones I try to consider every time I cook a meal or write a recipe. It has certainly inspired this week’s Oven-Baked Crispy Chicken With Lemony Herb Salad.

Hot, crunchy, panko-crusted chicken breasts, paired with a fresh, citrusy salad loaded with herbs is the epitome of contrast. You’ve got hot and cold. Crunchy and soft. Savoriness, balanced with bright, tart flavors.

Crispy breaded chicken is often fried, but I’ve found a solution that takes some of the fat and mess out of the process, while creating a truly delicious crunchy breast.

It starts with browning the panko crumbs in butter. Yes, you’re adding fat, but not nearly as much as you would need to properly fry the chicken.

The crumbs are used to coat the meat and, because the crumbs are already browned, the chicken only needs a short period to cook in the oven.

The result is a juicy, evenly browned breast. Yes, boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are beautifully brown and moist and juicy at the same time may seem like the unicorn of cooking, but this technique is almost foolproof.

While the chicken is cooking, a simple salad is made with baby lettuce and fresh herbs.

A handful or two of fresh herbs perk up lettuce and energize any meal. These salads can be palate-cleansing when served between courses, and the perfect foil when served alongside rich dishes.

You can mix up flavors, using different herbs. Basil, tarragon and mint will give you a sweeter salad, while cilantro, parsley or dill will lean more toward savory.

Whichever choice you make will be perfect with the hot, crispy chicken. The combination is light and refreshing and satisfying, all at the same time.

 

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.

Oven-Baked Crispy Chicken With Lemony Herb Salad

Serves 4.

Note: Hot, juicy, crunchy chicken is paired with a bright, lemony herb salad that will wake up your palate in this quick and easy weeknight meal. Panko breadcrumbs are lighter and bigger than the traditional crumb, which could be substituted. From Meredith Deeds.

• 3 tbsp. butter

• 1 1/4 c. panko breadcrumbs (see Note)

• 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 3/4 lb.)

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1/3 c. flour

• 2 eggs, beaten

• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard

• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 6 c. baby lettuce

• 1/2 c. fresh herbs, such as dill, parsley and basil leaves, or a combination

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a 12-inch skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs; cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring, until golden brown. Transfer to shallow bowl.

Between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, place each chicken breast; gently pound with flat side of meat mallet or rolling pin until chicken is about 1/4 inch thick. Season chicken breasts with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In shallow pan, stir together flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In 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.

Place chicken breasts on baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until just cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce and herbs. Drizzle 2 tablespoons dressing over the lettuce and toss to combine. Add more dressing, if desired. Serve the chicken with the salad.

Nutrition information per serving with 2 tablespoons salad dressing:

Calories 450 Fat 20 g

Sodium 770 mg Carbohydrates 17 g

Saturated fat 7 g Added sugars 1 g

Protein 50 g Cholesterol 200 mg

Dietary fiber 2 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 carb, 7 lean protein, 1 fat.