Until I met Jeff, I probably hadn’t eaten chicken tenders since middle school. Between burgeoning food snobbery, a period of vegetarianism, and an increasing awareness of the evils of all things fried, I spent my teen and young adult years choosing salads and ceviche instead of grilled cheese and corn dogs.
But Jeff adores kid food and has no qualms about ordering off the children’s menu. And let’s be honest… who doesn’t love grilled cheese? And corn dogs? And especially crispy chicken tenders. I can devour a mountain of deep-fried crunchy, juice strips of chicken, especially with a side of creamy ranch dip. Of course, I don’t usually allow myself to eat a mountain of them… generally just a bite or two stolen from Jeff’s plate.
I’d tried before to faux-fry chicken tenders in the oven, but never had much success. Jeff and I were looking for that crisp crunch on all sides, and juicy, flavorful chicken. But my breaded and baked failures were soggy on the bottom, and when cooked until crisp on top, inevitably dried out. They lacked juicy flavor and were a poor stand in for deep-fried goodness.
But when I saw this post on Kristy Rimkus’ wonderful healthy recipe site a while back, a little ray of faux-fried chicken tender hope entered my kitchen! I’ve tweaked Kristy’s recipe, but the key point is cooking the chicken on a cooling rack, letting the air circulate and crisp up all sides on the tenders.
Arranging the tenders on a greased cooling rack over a baking sheet results in much crispier chicken. So does using panko instead of regular breadcrumbs. There is no need to cook the tenders until the panko browns completely, just a tinge of gold will do. They will be crisp without overcooking, and the chicken will remain nice and juicy! The trick is to slice the chicken into one-inch strips, so that they cook quickly and evenly. And, for maximum flavor, I like to dip the chicken in honey mustard instead of an egg wash. As an added bonus, swapping mustard for egg cuts calories too.
Serve these up with some oven fries and a side of reduced-fat ranch dressing and you’ll be in faux-fried heaven!
Crispy Chicken Tenders
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast cutlet
1/2 cup honey mustard
2 cups panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange a greased cooling rack over a baking tray. Slice the chicken into one-inch strips. Spread the honey mustard in a shallow dish. In another dish, mix the panko, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Dip the chicken pieces in mustard, wiping of the excess, and then dredge in panko. Arrange the chicken on the cooling rack. Spray with cooking spray. Bake 20-25 minutes until crisp and cooked through.