Chef's Hat: Pecans aren't just for pie any more

Pecans have a sweet, nutty, buttery type flavor and can add zest to everything from your breakfast oatmeal to your evening entrée.


Pecans often bring up the image of pie - that sweet, rich dish often served as an elegant dessert at the end of holiday meals.

But much more can be done with these nuts than just putting them in a pie.

Pecans have a sweet, nutty, buttery type flavor and can add zest to everything from your breakfast oatmeal to your evening entrée. Pecans are delicious and unlike so many other tasty snacks, they are actually a healthy treat. These crunchy nuts are high in protein and contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc.

Pecans are festive and a bit extravagant. However, they are readily available year-round and should be used more often than that once-a-year pecan pie. Pecans are grown throughout the southern United States and more than 80% of the world’s pecans are harvested in the United States.


The pecan tree is native to northern Mexico and the southern United States in the region of the Mississippi River, but is now grown in other parts of the United States (and the world) anywhere summers are long, hot and humid.

So why wait for a special occasion to pick up a bag or two?

A few tips when using pecans:

  • Roast them to intensify their sweet and buttery flavor.
  • Store them properly. They should be stored in a tightly sealed container. Some sources recommend storing them in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • To save money, purchase pecan pieces instead of whole pecans.

Roasting pecans can be done in the oven or on the stovetop. To roast in the oven: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place the pecans on the sheet and, if desired, drizzle a bit of melted butter over the pecans. Then simply bake for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the pecans start smelling fragrant, remove from the oven.
To roast them on the stovetop: Place a skillet on the stove and turn to medium heat. Add the pecans. If desired, add a bit of olive oil or melted butter and swish the pecans around until they are coated. Heat 7 to 10 minutes, just until the pecans are fragrant and are a shade darker than their original color.

Don’t wait for a special occasion to pull out that bag of pecans. These nuts are delicious, healthy and can be used in everything from breakfast dishes to elegant desserts. So let the great flavor of pecans become a main ingredient not only in your holiday meals, but in your weeknight entrees. Happy Eating!


Pecan Muffins


They taste just like pecan pie!

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray mini or regular muffin cups generously with nonstick cooking spray. The tins need to be generously sprayed or the muffins will stick.

In a medium bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour and pecans. In a separate bowl, beat the butter, eggs and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the mix and stir just until combined.

Spoon batter into muffin cups until about 2/3 full. Bake for 12-13 minutes for mini muffins or 15-17 minutes for regular size muffins. To test for doneness, poke a fork into the middle of a muffin. If the muffins are done, the fork will come out clean. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin to loosen it and then place on a plate and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.


Pecan Broccoli Salad

Adapted from


  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup pecans (toasted)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (shake well before using)
  • ½ cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper

Place a medium sized bowl on the counter. Fill it with cold water and add a cup of ice. Put a medium sized saucepan on the stove. Add 1 cup of water. Turn heat to medium high. Once water is hot, add broccoli and cook for one minute. Remove from heat, drain and then put the broccoli into the cold water to completely stop the cooking process. Let cool 5 minutes and drain again.
Place broccoli in a large bowl. Add the pecans, cranberries, onion and celery pieces. Toss lightly.

In a medium sized bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, honey, salt and white pepper until smooth. Taste; if desired, add additional sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over the broccoli mixture. Let the salad sit 10 minutes before serving.


Pecan-Panko Crusted Chicken Breasts

Adapted from

  • 3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, toss together pecans, breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix well. Place onto a shallow dish or on a plate.

In another small mixing bowl stir together 1 tablespoon of the Dijon mustard, 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon of honey. Mix until well combined.


Pound the chicken to an even thickness (about 1/2 inch).) If the chicken is very thick, you can just cut the breasts in half. Blot dry with paper towels. Brush the tops of the chicken with the honey mustard mixture.

Transfer one piece of chicken to the Panko mixture, honey mustard side down, and press firmly to get the mixture to stick to the chicken. Brush the now top side of the chicken breast with the honey mixture and then turn over to coat the other side with the breadcrumbs. Place onto the prepared pan and continue with the remaining pieces of chicken.

Any remaining breadcrumbs can be sprinkled on the top of the chicken breasts. Lightly sprinkle the olive oil over the tops of the chicken.

Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Chicken should register 165 degrees and juices will run clear when thoroughly cooked.

While the chicken is cooking, blend together the remaining Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and honey. Set aside.

After removing the chicken from the oven, let it set for 5 minutes and then drizzle the sauce over the top.

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