Chicken breasts can be your best friend or your worst enemy in the kitchen. It’s the standby lean protein when you need to get a healthy dinner on the table fast, but its mild flavor and homogenous texture can also be terribly boring. Often it’s nothing more than an overcooked afterthought, cut into chunks, sautéed and tossed into a salad or pasta if we’re trying to bulk up a dish with protein.
Fret not, though. The lowly breast doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, some of the same qualities that give it a bad reputation can also make it interesting to cook. I like to think of it as a neutral palate just waiting to be highlighted with bright notes or rich undertones.
I reach for chicken breasts whenever I have a bold ingredient that’s too aggressive to pair with anything with its own distinctive flavor. For that reason, ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade or even Dijon mustard can be a perfect partner.
One easy recipe that’s sure to please the family is hardly a recipe at all. I simply smear the chicken breast with liberal coating of Dijon mustard, sprinkle on a topping of chopped pecans and bake. The mustard adds just enough of a kick to get your attention and the pecans give it an appealing buttery crunch.
You can serve the baked breasts in a variety of ways, which is why I always make more than I need for just one meal. They’re terrific on their own, paired with roasted potatoes and sautéed green beans or as an addition to your favorite spinach salad or as the basis for a delightful sandwich.
My family’s favorite chicken sandwich also includes a little bacon and a honey Dijonnaise, along with a few standard sandwich toppings like lettuce, tomato and red onion. If I have a ripe avocado on hand, I throw a few slices of that on, too. I use a whole-wheat bun, but you could use any bread you like.
Boring? I think not.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.