Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
I love my weekly e-mail from Top Secret Recipes. If you don't know them, Top Secret Recipes tries to track down the recipes to popular restaurant dishes so that you can cook them at home in your own kitchen. I have been obsessed with this kind of thing ever since I was a little girl and a man came on The Phil Donahue Show (see, this was back in the pre-Oprah era) and showed off how he could make a hamburger at home to taste just like a McDonald's Big Mac. I hadn't even had a Big Mac before, but I thought the concept of copying fun restaurant food at home would be really cool. This guy showed off all kinds of restaurant duplicates and Phil Donahue swore they tasted just like the real thing. I quickly told my mom about it and being the good sport and great mom that she is, she made the recipe for biscuits that are supposed to taste just like the cheddar cheese biscuits at Red Lobster. They were really, really good and I do think they tasted like what is served at Red Lobster. So ever since then, I've been quite intrigued by anyone who says they have the "secret recipes" behind popular restaurant dishes.
A couple weeks ago, Top Secret Recipes sent out a recipe for T.G.I. Friday's Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad. According to the e-mail, this salad is one of the top picks at Friday's. I hadn't had it before, but the list of ingredients sounded great---dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, bleu cheese, pecan-crusted chicken breast, and a balsamic vinaigrette. What's not to like there?
I know Win's mom loves dried cranberries and mandarin oranges and this salad sounded like something she'd be up for. So we prepared it one night when she visited. Apparently, T.G.I. Friday's serves the chicken on top cold, but we decided we'd like it warm. Also, the recipe suggests pan frying the chicken in a very shallow amount of oil. My fry guy, Win, decided deeper oil would work better so we added much more than Top Secret Recipes suggested. So what follows is our interpretation of this dish. It should be pretty close to the original, just with our slight twists on it.
Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (for chicken breading)
1/2 cup corn flake crumbs
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
at least 1.5 cups canola oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons dijon mustard
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (to sprinkle on salad)
2 heads romaine, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 11-ounce cans mandarin orange segments, drained
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1. First, let's get the chicken started. Pound each chicken breast to a reasonable thickness (about 1/2 inch is good). Combine 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans and corn flake crumbs in a shallow bowl. In another bowl, combine milk and beaten eggs. Put flour into a third bowl. Coat each chicken breast with flour. Then dip the flour-coated chicken breast into the egg and milk mixture, then coat the chicken with a thick coating of the pecans and corn flake crumbs.
2. Preheat 1/2 cup of canola oil in a large skillet over medium/low heat. As mentioned above, Win actually used much more oil than that---you use whatever you feel is best for you. Saute the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown.
3. Here's how you do the vinaigrette. Combine 1 cup canola oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender. Blend on low speed for just a few seconds to mix thoroughly. Pour into a small bowl and add the minced garlic. Chill until you are ready to use the dressing.
4. When you are ready to make the salads, toss romaine and celery with 3/4 cup ofthe balsamic vinaigrette. Arrange the romaine on 4 plates, then sprinkle the dried cranberries, brown sugar and 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans on top of each salad. Sprinkle about 1/2 can of drained mandarin orange segments over each salad, followed by about 2 tablespoons of crumbled bleu cheese. Or, be like me and just go crazy...pile it on in all its yumminess. Slice the chicken and top each salad with the equivalent of one chicken breast.
This dish is great. Very easy to make and it's substantive enough to be a real meal, without being too heavy. The combination of fruit, bleu cheese and pecans sings and the balsamic vinaigrette is outstanding. I'll definitely use the recipe for that vinaigrette again in other salads. I can see why this would be a popular order at T.G.I. Friday's.
If you're wondering why one of the chicken breasts in the photo above isn't like the others (sing it with me, Sesame Street fans...), it's because I decided to cook the fourth breast for Lima. She theoretically isn't allergic to nuts and it should be fine for her to have them at this stage, but I decided to be a bit cautious and just cook her chicken in a flour and egg batter. Of course it was fried in the same pan as the nuts, so I'm not being THAT careful...but you know what I mean. Lima enjoyed her chicken breast cut into very small pieces for several meals.
I'd highly recommend this dish. It's easy, delicious and would be good for a lunch or dinner. Check out Top Secret Recipes too. Most of the recipes I've seen them do come from popular US chain restaurants, which I know may or may not be appealing to you. Although I haven't tried most of the dishes they have recipes for in the actual restaurants, I'm always intrigued when I see a particularly good-looking one.