I am starting to believe I must have been a squirrel in a past life. Let’s consider the facts, shall we? I love nuts, all sorts of nuts. I eat them several times a day. I hoard them, snatching them up whenever I see them on sale, squirreling them away in my freezer and pantry for future use. These are all distinctly squirrel-like behaviours. I don’t want it to be true, as I don’t much care for squirrels. They are skittish little rodents who have a nasty habit of throwing themselves under car wheels and becoming squished bits of grey fur and red guts on the road that I have to avoid on my runs. Blech! I’d much prefer to find out that I was something elegant and regal in a previous exisitence. A tigress, perhaps, or a gazelle. But a squirrel? Really?
I ate nuts fairly frequently before I was diabetic, but now my nut-aholism is all sorts of out of control. In moments of desperate hunger, they provide much needed energy and nutrition without adding a lot of carbs. They take the place of wheat flour in almost all of my baked goods, and I seem to be adding them to more and more dishes, both savoury and sweet. I consume them in all of their manifestations: whole, chopped, ground, butter, milk, toasted, raw. I think it would be safe to say that nuts make up a large part of my diet and are irreplaceable to me. I really don’t know what I would do without them.
I can’t really take credit for the idea behind this recipe. I saw it on someone else’s blog a few months back and I instantly recognized it as something I would like. However, I can no longer remember whose blog it was or where I saved the link to the recipe, so when I finally got around to making it, I had to go it alone and make up my own version. If it was your blog, please claim it! I was well-trained in ungdergrad and grad school to cite my sources and plagiarism is abhorrent to me, so speak up and I will rewrite this post to include you and give you credit.
In my version, I did a couple of things which I believe greatly impact the outcome of the dish. The first is brining the chicken breasts. If you’ve never brined your chicken, you need to start immediately – especially for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which can be so dry and flavourless after cooking. Brining helps to lock in the juices so that even oven-baked chicken is tender and moist. I also used toasted walnut oil to drizzle over the chicken before baking. You could use a different oil or butter, but you won’t get quite as much of a walnut flavour. And think of all of those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids!
The Results I didn’t really have any fear that I wouldn’t like this dish. The question is, could I fool my kids into eating it? They are convinced that they don’t like nuts besides peanuts, so when they asked what was for dinner, I just said chicken. Leaving out the word “walnut” seems to have done the trick because they loved it! My rapidly-growing 6 year old ate two helpings, and the picky-eater toddler downed her share in flash. For my part, I really loved the flavour of the walnuts, rosemary and garlic with the chicken, and it was an easy meal to throw together, which is always a plus. Any leftovers are wonderful cold and sliced onto a salad.
The only part that really takes some forethought and planning is the brining, which requires about an hour. But trust me, it’s worth it. And brining has the added advantage of helping to defrost your chicken breasts, if you are like me and you tend to forget about that part until later in the day. Often I am plopping semi-thawed breasts into the salty water, popping the whole bowl back in the fridge and crossing my fingers that it’s all defrosted by dinner time. And it usually is!
Walnut Rosemary Crusted Chicken
5-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup walnuts, ground fine
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tbsp walnut oil
salt and pepper
To brine the chicken, fill a large bowl with cold water and stir in kosher salt until mostly dissolved. Place chicken in bowl and chill in refrigerator about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease a glass or ceramic baking pan (13×9 inches).
In a small bowl, whisk together walnuts, rosemary and garlic. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towel. Place chicken in single layer in prepared pan and cover each breast in walnut mixture, pressing to adhere. Drizzle with walnut oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake until light golden brown and chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.