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Crispy Chicken Tenders

July 17, 2012

I’m a big fan of chicken tenders.  For some reason, eating chicken tenders makes me feel like a kid all over again, perhaps because they are reminiscent of chicken mcnuggets from the Golden Arches!  Every now and then, when I got out to eat at a casual type of restaurant I’ll order a basket of chicken tenders and french fries as my meal.  There’s just something about good, delicious, crispy chicken tenders that are just so good.

After having previously made chicken parmigiana for dinner for my husband and I one night,  I realized that the process of making crispy chicken tenders at home was very similar to how chicken parmigiana is made (minus the tomato sauce, of course).  If my chicken parmigiana could turn out great, why couldn’t crispy chicken tenders turn out just as good?

You’ll need some basic ingredients for the crispy chicken tenders: chicken breast meat, all-purpose flour, salt, pepper, eggs, milk, corn starch, bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, rosemary and cayenne pepper.

I started my crispy chicken tenders with chicken breast meat, however, if you want to buy chicken tenders pre-cut at the grocery store to make it easier, you can do that too.  With my chicken breast meat, I just cut strips out of the breast meat.  You don’t want it to be too thick, or too big of a piece for two reasons: first, this is chicken tenders that are supposed to be bite-sized finger food,  we’re not breaking out the silverware, so make sure you cut to a size that you can still handle with your fingers; secondly, if you cut it too thick and big, it won’t fry up and cook all the way through.  Remember, you will be frying your chicken tenders after they have been breaded, so you don’t want pieces that are so thick that the outside of the chicken burns while the inside is not yet cooked through.  This is chicken, so you need to make sure that the chicken is cooked all the way through before you can serve it.

The next step is preparing the breading for the chicken.  Like chicken parmigiana, this is a 3 step process: dredging, dipping, coating.  3 steps to preparing the chicken tender to go into the fryer.  It’s easiest to put everything together assembly line style and line it up on your kitchen counter top so that form a line that goes right into the fryer; that way starting at one end of the counter and walking towards the fryer you go from dredging to dipping to coating to frying.  This also minimizes the mess you may leave behind.  Let’s start with the dredging.  Traditionally, you use flour to dredge your chicken tenders.  However, I use a combination of flour with a little bit of corn starch.  The corn starch helps make the chicken tenders more crispy when you fry it up by creating air pockets.  I also use the dredging process as a way to add flavor and seasoning to my chicken tenders.  A lot of people like to pre-season their chicken tenders with salt and pepper before the dredge the tender in flour.  However, I choose to take a plain chicken tender and dredge it into flour that’s been seasoned.  So, in a pie pan, I will pour all-purpose flour, a couple of tablespoons of corn starch, a lot of fresh ground salt and pepper (remember, the salt and pepper will dissipate into the flour mixture, so you need to add a lot of it), and pinch of cayenne pepper.  The cayenne helps to give the chicken just a little added umph!  It’s an undercurrent of mild spice that’s not overpowering.

After dredging comes dipping.  In a very shallow bowl, I beat together a couple of eggs and about a quarter of a cup of milk.  This creates a creamy coating which will help in the coating process for the breading to stick to the chicken tenders.  The egg whites create the adhesive for the breading and the egg yolks and milk make a creamy, silky texture that also adds a bit of flavor to the chicken.

Finally comes the coating process, which is the breading.  This is part of where the magic of the crispy chicken tenders comes in.  For the breading, it’s a combination of a variety of items for me.  In a pie dish, I combined a couple of cups of regular plain bread crumbs with a couple of cups of panko bread crumbs.  The panko bread crumbs are lighter than regular bread crumbs and they fry up crispy.  To the bread crumbs, I add a few sprigs of very finely minced rosemary, which goes well with chicken and gives an added aroma and flavor profile to the chicken tenders.  I also add in more freshly ground salt and pepper.  I also take a few garlic cloves and finely mince that to add to the pie dish as well.  Lastly, I take a wedge of parmesan cheese and freshly grate that into the pie dish as well.  Combine that all together so all the ingredients, and spices and seasoning are all mixed in together.

Alright, now it’s one, two, three!

One, take the chicken tender and dredge it into the flour/corn starch mixture.  Make sure to dredge both sides of the chicken tenders into the flour so that it coats the entire chicken tender.  Shake off the excess before you move to step two.

Two, time for dipping.  Take the flour coated chicken tender and dip both sides of the chicken tender into the egg and milk mixture.  Again, make sure the entire tender is coated in the egg and milk and shake off the excess.

Three, time for coating.  The chicken tender dredged in flour and dipped in egg should now be coated in the breading.  Again, like the 2 steps previous, make sure both sides of the chicken are coated.  This time, press down a bit on the chicken to make sure that the coating sticks to the chicken.  The better coated the chicken tender, the more flavor and crunch you add.

Final step to the process now, fry up the chicken tenders.  Have a heavy pan on the stove heated with a few inches of oil.  I would normally use canola oil for frying up chicken tenders, but this time around, I decided to give grapeseed oil a try.  Grapeseed oil doesn’t burn, so therefore can withstand a lot of heat.  Olive oil would be healthy for this process, but does burn easily and is expensive.  The grapeseed oil seemed to work well.  When the oil is very hot, put two or three chicken tenders right into the oil and allow it to fry up.  It takes 4-5 minutes on each side.  When one side is cooked, turn the chicken tender over and fry the other side.  Again, as this is chicken, you need to make sure that the chicken is cooked all the way through before you pull it out of the fryer.  If the chicken tender is browning too quickly turn the heat down on the stove.  When the crispy chicken tenders are done, remove them from the pan, shake off the excess oil and rest it on a paper towel lined plate.

It’s best to fry and serve the crispy chicken tenders right away.  This ensures that the chicken tenders are nice and hot and the breading remains crispy.  The crispy chicken tenders can be served with ketchup, honey mustard or ranch dipping sauces.  But, give the chicken tenders a taste.  They may be so good that dipping sauces just aren’t required.  My husband and I found the chicken tenders to be full of flavor from the hint of cayenne to the bite of black pepper to the saltiness from the parmesan cheese, to the woody and fragrant rosemary.  The cornstarch worked its magic along with the panko bread crumbs and the tenders were super crispy!  A great, fun and delicious weeknight meal for any occasion.

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