- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

As a child, I couldn’t get enough of fish sticks and chicken nuggets. The lure wasn’t the food but the crisp, golden brown coating. The siz-

zling sound as batter-dipped food hit the fat was enough to bring me to the table.

Now that I’ve grown up and calories count more than crunch, I no longer build my meals around the deep fryer. However, I still crave those wonderful coatings that made the most mundane food magical.

After much tasty (and not so tasty) research, I have a recipe for a delicious crunchy baked chicken using panko, the Japanese bread-crumb product, available in most supermarkets’ Asian food sections.

The following recipe, which calls for mustard, butter and panko, creates a crust that’s better than the one on any fish stick I recall from childhood.

The recipe calls for dipping the chicken in a mustard-and-butter mixture, then baking the chicken in the same dish.

Use the juices that accumulate to drizzle over the couscous accompaniment.

Although I prefer baking the chicken with the skin on, you can prepare this dish using skinless, bone-in chicken. Start testing the chicken for doneness after 30 minutes.

Roast chicken with couscous

1½ tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper

2 small chicken breast halves

½ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Couscous (follows)

Melt butter at medium speed for 30 to 60 seconds in glass pie dish in the microwave. Remove. Stir in mustard, salt and pepper. Stir well. Press chicken, skin-side down, into butter mixture to coat.

Place panko on a plate. Press butter-coated chicken, skin-side down, in panko to coat.

Turn chicken skin-side up and place in the pie dish. Roast in a preheated 375-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until skin is golden brown and chicken tests done.

While chicken is roasting, prepare couscous. To serve, spoon half of couscous onto each of 2 plates. Top with chicken and spoon on any cooking juices from the dish.

Makes 2 servings.

COUSCOUS:

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons sliced raw almonds

1 cup minus 1 tablespoon chicken broth

2/3 cup Israeli couscous (also called toasted couscous or large pearl)

2 tablespoons minced chives or scallions, green parts only

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in small pot. Add almonds and cook over low-medium heat for 1 minute or until nuts are light golden brown.

Immediately remove almonds and set aside.

Add chicken broth to pot and bring to a boil.

Stir in couscous. Stir again. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until couscous is tender and liquid absorbed. Stir in chives, salt and pepper.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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