This past Saturday marked the first day of Oktoberfest, the celebration held annually in Munich, Germany, which attracts over 6 million thirsty individuals. I'm really not certain why the majority of Oktoberfest is held in September, but since the Germans have been hosting this event for almost 200 years, they probably know what they are doing, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Over this 16-day party, revelers down over 1.5 million gallons of beer, 200,000 sausages, and massive amounts of schnitzel to the beat of an oom-pah-pah band. All of this consumption does nothing but support the German stereotype of beer-guzzling, lederhosen-wearing, portly meat-lovers. As a woman of German heritage, I am thankful that we at least have Heidi Klum to help detract from that image.
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of most German food, which often involves taking a starch and pairing it with more starch and a breaded protein (topped with starch). All of this is usually washed down with a dark heavy beer, leaving you feeling like you just downed a pint of cement (paints a lovely picture, doesn't it?)
What I do enjoy, however, are the German breads and pastries. When my mom and I took a trip to Germany last December, I practically lived on fresh bakery rolls, stollen, and soft pretzels, which were sold everywhere. I have always been a pretzel-lover. When I grew up, those big brown boxes of Snyder's sourdough pretzels were a staple in our pantry, and no trip to New York City would be complete unless I ate a salty soft pretzel with yellow mustard from a street vendor. You can have your potato chips, Doritos, and Cheez-Its, but for now, I'll hang on to the pretzel sticks, rods, and twists.
In honor of Oktoberfest, I present to you a recipe that takes my favorite carb-heavy German treat and turns it into a well-balanced and healthy entree. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are coated with a zesty mustard sauce, rolled in crushed pretzels, and then baked until crispy. The entire dish takes about 40 minutes from start to finish, and it would probably pair nicely with a Lowenbrau, Hofbrau, or Trokenbeerenauslese (which I'm sure you all happen to have just lying around the house.) Here are some extra tips for this crispy coated chicken dish:
- In order to achieve a crisp topping, it is important to use thick hard pretzels, such as the sourdough (Snyders) or handmade varieties.
- If you want to add a bit of an extra "kick" to your recipe, try mixing a bit of cayenne pepper in with the pretzel crumbs, or add a few dashes of Tabasco sauce to the mustard dressing.
- This recipe can also be turned into a healthier variation on chicken fingers or chicken nuggets. Coat the smaller sized portions of chicken per the directions, but adjust the baking time.
- If you don't have a good food processor, the pretzels can be crushed by placing them in a large zip-top bag and then rolling over them with a rolling pin until they are crushed. The dressing can be whisked together in a large bowl.
- The baked chicken and dressing can be kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours. The unbaked chicken can marinate in the mustard dressing for up to 4 hours.
Pretzel Encrusted Baked Chicken
4 cups coarsely crushed hard pretzels
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack over the baking sheet. Spray the rack with non-stick cooking spray.
In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the pretzels until they are coarsely ground. There should be a mixture of coarse chunks and fine crumbs. Transfer the pretzels to a shallow dish.
Wipe out the food processor and then add the oil, whole grain and Dijon mustards, water, vinegar, and thyme and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken in a large, shallow bowl and pour half of the dressing over the chicken. Turn the chicken to fully coat. Dredge the chicken breasts in the pretzel crumbs and then place them on the wire rack.
Bake the chicken for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Slice the chicken and serve warm or at room temperature with the remaining mustard sauce.