there are a few basic recipes that i am constantly looking to better or to perfect and chicken tenders have long been one. lately i have been making them more often, since we have a preschooler and a toddler running our lives these days and they are a great go-to for easy & healthy meals. i much prefer making them myself when i can, instead of the freezer chicken tenders & nuggets that truthfully scare me a little. every chicken tender i have made in the past has been just ok, “neither here nor there”. i’ve made some with breadcrumbs and some with panko. i’ve tried lots of different ways to bread them – with buttermilk, with whole milk, or with eggs, breaded once or twice… but i still had not found my favorite tenders that were perfectly crunchy, yet moist, and held their breading all over without falling off during baking. and i still had the problem of the breading getting mushy on the underside.
well, after many tests & tastings & tweakings i can safely say i am forever free from chicken tender mediocrity!
i have finally mastered the elusive perfect homemade chicken tender.
(and the crowd stands up and cheers like crazy:)
i used a mix of ground cheddar crackers and saltine crackers as the breading, which gives it the perfect flavor and crunch on the outside. i also baked the tenders on all-metal drying rack (used mostly for cooling cookies or pies) on top of a baking sheet – this ensured no soggy business on the underside of the tenders. (this was the most exciting part of my week. seriously.)
as for the dipping sauce: i have 2 all-time favorite aioli recipes in my arsenal – the recipe below is my super quick and easy version that uses ingredients i always have on hand. aioli is my favorite dipping sauce for chicken tenders and complements these really well. if you can stand to turn down the ketchup, i promise, it’s worth it.
cheddar & saltine cracker baked chicken tenders
adapted via just a taste
1 3/4 lbs chicken tenders (or chicken breasts, sliced into tenders)
3 cups cheez-it crackers (or similar cheddar cracker), or make them homemade
1 cup oyster cracker/soup-style saltines (or broken up regular size saltines)
3 tbsp dijon mustard
3/4 cup flour
olive oil cooking spray
1. preheat oven to 475. position rack in lower third of oven.
2. place an all-metal drying rack on a large cookie sheet. spray or brush drying rack with olive oil.
3. in a food processor or blender, grind cheddar and saltine crackers until finely ground then place in a wide & shallow bowl. in another bowl, whisk the eggs and dijon mustard. then place the flour in a third wide & shallow bowl.
4. with each chicken tender, dip it first into the flour, shaking off excess. then dip into egg/dijon mixture and then into the cracker mixture, pressing crumbs onto the tender making sure it’s evenly coated. repeat with remaining tenders. place the tenders an inch or two apart on the metal rack on the cookie sheet (see picture above).
5. bake for 14-16 minutes, until they are beginning to golden. serve warm with aioli dipping sauce.
quick & easy aioli dipping sauce
makes about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup mayonnaise (duke’s is my favorite)
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1/2 tsp worcestershire
1/2 tsp lemon juice
mix all ingredients together with a whisk until completely incorporated.