Every community, particularly in the South, has those handful of classic community cookbooks that everyone seems to own, or haveaccess to, or just know about. They are the reference points for the community table. Compiled by church auxiliaries, symphony leagues, historic societies, these treasure troves bind a community through the most essential love we all share. Food. When you are at a party, or have friends over and someone prepares a great dish, how often is the answer to the recipe request, “oh, it’s in…” In Memphis, the end of that sentence is frequently, “Heart and Soul” one of the most popular of the local Junior League’s cookbook offerings. There are recipes included in Heart and Soul that people know by heart now, that are as much a part of the Memphis lexicon as an Elvis song. But there a few that get overlooked. This is one of those recipes.
I never really noticed this delicious appetizer recipe in the book, but awhile back, a friend served it at book club. We were all much impressed. She offhandedly remarked, “Oh, it’s just from 'Heart and Soul.' ” It took me awhile, but I pulled out the book and made the recipe myself, and it is so good, it is worth sharing. These tender little golden bites are so surprising. Rich with chicken and a real depth from the seasonings. These make a nice change from your standard appetizer fare.
I have made a few adjustments to the recipe to streamline the prep, and I serve them now with a blue cheese dip, which complements the chicken and pecans so well. I do recommend celery salt, but if you don’t have it on hand, try your favorite seasoned salt or a little plain salt. And these do freeze beautifully, so you can always have some on hand.
Chicken Pecan Bites with Blue Cheese Dip
Adapted from "Heart and Soul: Stirring Recipes from Memphis"
Makes 24 pieces, more if you choose to make them smaller
Makes 1/-14 cup dip
For the Chicken Bites:
1 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon celery salt
For the Dip:
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
Generous grindings of black pepper
For the Chicken Bites:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter in the chicken broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a sturdy wooden spoon. The mixture will roll away from the sides of the pan and come together in a ball. Keep stirring until the mixture is relatively smooth. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, finely chop the cooked chicken breast. You want small pieces.
When the flour mixture has cooled, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until smooth and completely combined. Stir in the chicken, pecans, parsley, Worcestershire, poultry seasoning and celery salt and stir until well combined.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the chicken bites onto the pan. I use a 2 Tablespoon cookie scoop for a nice hearty bite, which makes about 2 dozen. Feel free to scoop smaller bites if you’d prefer.
Cook the bites immediately for 20-30 minutes until firm and golden, or freeze the tray of unbaked bites for a few hours until firm, then remove to a zip-top freezer bag. Bake from frozen, but you may need to increase the cooking time accordingly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
For the Dip:
Place the blue cheese, yogurt, and mayonnaise in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a little milk to thin it out to a dipping consistency as needed. Season generously with black pepper. Pour the dip in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
The dip can be made up to 2 days ahead. You may want to thin it with a little milk before serving.
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