Food & Drink | September 2021

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

The Best Pecan Pie

A bunch of years ago, Abby and I started a catering company. We had already been doing a few small jobs but then decided to make it official, even if it was a side gig for both of us. We called our company Fishes & Loaves, the name coming from the story in the Gospels when Jesus feeds the 5,000 with simply five loaves of bread and two small fish. We thought about translating the name into French to sound a bit more posh, but fish in French is “poisson,” which is much too close to “poison” to use in the name of a catering company.

Along with our friend Kent Herring, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who had actual experience in the food industry, we catered several weddings, some parties, a few corporate events. We were once contacted by a couple who were having a party to celebrate their anniversary — their 50th, maybe? We met the couple at their house to discuss the menu and pricing, and I told her that for dessert, we could make them the best pecan pie they’d ever had. The wife said that was a pretty bold statement. I replied, “Well, who would you rather have making you a pecan pie, someone who says, ‘This’ll be the best pecan pie you’ve ever eaten,’ or someone who says, ‘Yeah, we’ll make you a pretty good pecan pie?’” She said that she could make a pretty mean pecan pie herself and didn’t think there would be any way that ours would be as good as hers.

So we agreed to a competition, a tasting of the pies, that would take place at the anniversary party. The judges would be her children. And I’m not saying this to brag — but I am absolutely saying this to brag — her kids determined that our pie was the best pie.

We like pecans in our house, as evidenced by our mastery of the pecan pie genre. It seems that pecans end up on our list almost every trip to the grocery store.

The pecan is obviously important to the state of Texas, as it is the official state tree, state nut and state pie, said Blair Krebs, the executive director of the Texas Pecan Growers Association, which is in Bryan. (An aside: When Abby was growing up, in Bryan, she used to pick pecans with her grandmother. When they had a healthy batch, Bessie — Abby’s grandmother — would spread newspaper on the floor in front of the TV, and they would sit there together, cracking pecans while watching “The Lawrence Welk Show.”)

“The pecan has lots of historical significance to the state,” Krebs said. “Our state is one of three that has led production for a long time,” with the other two being Georgia and New Mexico.

Last year’s pecan crop in Texas was worth nearly $65 million, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. And the beauty of the pecan is its versatility. It can be used in a dish for any part of the meal, any time of the day. From oat and pecan smoothies and cinnamon-pecan muffins for breakfast to our awesome pecan pie for dessert after dinner, pecans are everywhere.

In the recipes below there is, of course, the pecan pie recipe, but there’s also a recipe for Pecan-Crusted Chicken that Abby prepared during her capstone course in the culinary arts program at Texas State Technical College (from which she graduated with honors); Abby’s grandmother’s recipe for Ice Box Cookies; a favorite salad of ours; and a recipe for Spicy Pecans provided by Krebs at the TPGA. She’s a fan of savory pecan dishes, she said, and this recipe certainly fits that criteria.

For those who would like a little pecan flavor first thing in the morning, here’s how we came up with what we call Saturday Morning Coffee. A few years ago, we went on a day trip to San Saba, which is “commonly known as the Pecan Capital of the WORLD!” according to the city website. While there, we purchased a bag of pecan coffee.

On weekdays, we make our normal coffee, which is a blend of dark roast and medium roast. (It’s not some fancy custom blend. We just buy two bags of coffee and combine them ourselves.) On Saturday mornings, however, after our San Saba trip, we began to add a few scoops of the pecan coffee to our dark/medium blend for a little special something-something to celebrate the start of the weekend. More recently, however, instead of the pecan-flavored coffee, we’ve been using Mardi Gras King Cake coffee from Community Coffee, which has hints of cinnamon and vanilla.

The Recipes

Pecan-Crusted Chicken

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun or Creole seasoning mix, divided
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Add the flour to a shallow bowl. In another bowl, add the eggs, milk and 1 tablespoon seasoning mix; whisk together. In a third bowl, mix the pecans, breadcrumbs, cheese and remaining seasoning mix.

Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Dip the chicken into the flour, then the egg mixture and then the pecan mixture, coating well. Place the chicken on the rack over the baking sheet and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350 F.

In a heavy skillet, add about 2 inches of oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and fry the chicken until it’s golden brown and crispy, turning occasionally. Transfer the fried chicken to a sheet pan and place in the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes to continue cooking all the way through.

Makes about 4 servings.

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Pear-Pecan Salad with Pecan Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the salad:

  • 5 to 6 cups spring mix greens, red or green leaf lettuce, torn into small pieces
  • 2 pears, unpeeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces
  • 1/3 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese

To make the vinaigrette, in a medium bowl, combine the Dijon and honey. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking to combine. Then slowly add the vinegar, whisking to combine. Stir in the toasted pecans.

To make the salad, in a medium serving bowl, combine the greens, pears and toasted pecans. Drizzle in some dressing — you won’t need all of it — and toss until the greens are lightly coated, adding more if necessary. Top with the blue cheese.

Makes about 4 servings.

[Note: To toast pecans, place the nuts in a medium skillet set over medium heat and cook until the pecans are fragrant, 4-5 minutes, while stirring frequently.]
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Spicy Pecans

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon pecan oil, coconut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt

Heat oven to 325 F.

Place pecans in a large plastic zipper bag. In a small bowl, mix the garlic salt, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, ginger and cinnamon. Add to the pecans. Seal the bag and toss well to coat pecans.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the oil and let it get hot. Add seasoned pecans and cook, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and spread pecans on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until pecans are heated through. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 cups.

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Browned Butter-Honey Pecan Pie

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
  • Whipped cream

Heat oven to 425 F.

Cook butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 6-8 minutes or until browned. (Do not stir.) Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, honey, sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs. Stir well with a wire whisk. Stir in browned butter and pecans. Pour mixture into the pie shell.

Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325 F and bake 40-45 additional minutes or until center of pie is almost set. (Cover pie with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning after 25 minutes, if necessary.) Cool completely on a wire rack. (Pie will become firm as it cools.) Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 8 servings.

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Ice Box Cookies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla and lemon juice; mix well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the batter. Mix until just combined. Then mix in the pecans.

Transfer the dough to a flat surface and roll into a long log. Wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To bake the cookies, heat oven to 300 F. Slice cookies 1/4-inch thick and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet or a baking mat for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes about 30 cookies.

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