Pecans as a Protein Coating for Meat

Mary Alice Shreve, RD, LD

Pecans are rapidly emerging as America’s favorite nut, and their nutritional profile only bolsters that sentiment. Packed with protein and healthful unsaturated fats, the pecan has moved to the forefront as a nut recognized for its superior quality and great versatility in the food industry. In particular, many chefs choose pecans as a viable alternative to flour in the form of a fish and poultry coating.

Originally hailing from the Mississippi River Valley, pecans have a meaty, mellow flavor and crunchy texture. They are extremely nutritious, containing high amounts of monounsaturated fats and a protein content of nearly 3 grams per 1 ounce serving. Pecans are also a rich source of fiber (almost 10 percent of the Recommended Daily Value), provide more than 19 vitamins and minerals, and are sodium and cholesterol-free.

Pecans are bursting with antioxidants, which appear to prevent cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. They also are gluten-free and have been approved by the American Heart Association to be a recommended heart-healthy food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the claim that “Eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Pecans serve as an excellent resource for coating protein products. Try “breading” chicken or encrusting fish fillets (and even fish sticks for the kids!) with pecan pieces or meal. Pecan meal is produced from the still-tasty flakes created when making chopped pecans. Pecan meal as a coating, particularly mixed with finely chopped pieces, creates a texture similar to a wheat flour coating and the nuggets then can be baked or fried. This provides a practical substitute to refined white wheat flour for avoiding gluten sensitivities, and the pecan’s nutty flavor is retained, enhancing the flavor of your protein.

Cooks find that pecan coatings are ideal for sealing in a protein’s juices while also creating an appealing outer, crunchy texture. A pecan crust browns nicely to give the appearance and mouth-feel of a “fried” texture without the guilt! Want to give it a try? Revered chef and Southern folkways expert Virginia Willis offers a Gluten-Free Georgia Pecan-Crusted Turkey Tenderloin that mimics a deep-fried dish.

To prevent a soggy outer crust, roasting the pecan pieces beforehand for an extra-crispy texture, or simply using pecan meal and pieces (which retain their oil), create a moisture barrier coating that will lead to a crisper outcome. Pecans freeze well, so storing the pecans at low temperatures will keep them at their freshest. They are high in oils (unsaturated fats), so it is necessary that they be kept cold to prevent them from going rancid over time.

Offered in shell, halves, pieces, oils, spreads and meal, the U.S. produces more than 80 percent of the world’s pecan inventory, with Georgia leading production with an average 100 million pounds per year. Georgia pecans are highly sought after because the varieties produced in the state are generally large, plump and flavorful. Add value to the products you create with pecans. Not only are pecans also exceptionally nutritious, their flavor and texture win big in the kitchen.

The following recipes incorporate pecans as a protein coating:

Baked Pecan Crusted Chicken Fingers

Georgia Pecan Crusted Salmon & Potato Cake

Horseradish & Georgia Pecan Crusted Beef Tenderloin