Chicken Fingers

Sunday night usually goes this way. I’ve spent the day cleaning house, doing chores, running errands. I may have made it to the grocery store, but everything I bought calls for elaborate preparation or eight hours in the slow cooker. Or, I didn’t make it to the market, and I’m left with  random ingredients in my kitchen, and venturing out is simply out of the question at this point. I usually walk back and forth between my pantry, fridge and freezer, then back to the pantry, again to the freezer, checking the way-back of the crisper drawer, crossing my fingers in the hope I’ll find something with a little life left in it. (Usually, it’s just a soggy half-eaten bag of baby spinach.)

But one of my favorite go-to dinners that I can almost always throw together is Chicken Fingers! And I don’t mean those frozen ones with an orange crust too closely resembling sand and flecked with “pepper.” I mean honest-to-goodness homemade Chicken Fingers.

I try to always keep frozen chicken breast tenders in my freezer. I get them home from the market, empty them into a freezer bag and separate them so they are in one flat layer and not touching. Then I lay them in a flat surface in my freezer until solid. This way they don’t clump together in one solid mass of chicken; you can defrost individually and in minutes by dropping the bag into a sink filled with cool water, flipping occasionally.

Some recipes you might find for Chicken Finger call for store-bought breadcrumbs. Let me tell you that the canister kind are just awful. Especially the ones with the so-called “Italian seasoning.” How long have those flecks of parsley been in there, anyway? But even the plain ones, they’re so fine and sandy, they add absolutely nothing to the flavor or texture of your chicken. If you absolutely had to use a store-bought breadcrumbs, Panko, the coarser (and more expensive) variety is OK. That’s it. OK. And if you just wanted OK chicken, you can just go back to that red box in your freezer. But you want delicious chicken. I know you do. So let me blow your mind.

Home. Made. Breadcrumbs. They’re the easiest thing in the world and so much more delicious (and cost effective) than anything off the market shelf. I had about an eighth a loaf of sourdough in the freezer. I popped it in the microwave for a couple of seconds to defrost, then gave it a whirl in the food processor. Stale bread is perfect for this, too. That rock-hard day old baguette can be upcycled into a beautifully golden, crunchy, craggy crust.

Now, back to the chicken. It’s a simple three-step process. In a shallow bowl, dump in some flour and mix in some salt and pepper. How much flour depends on how much chicken you have to bread. If you’ve done this before, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, eat more chicken! You’ll get the hang of it quickly. Or you’ll throw away some flour. So what, it’s cheap.

In another bowl, crack an egg or two. If you have some cream or half and half (or better yet, buttermilk!) splash a little into the eggs and whip it up. Another delicious secret is a tiny spoonful of dijon mustard. It coats the chicken and gives just that much more flavor to the final product. And a splash of hot sauce. Why not?

Dump those breadcrumbs into another dish. I find that all you need for seasoning is a generous amount of salt and pepper, but you could do anything here. Toss in some dried herbs. Grate in some fresh parmesan cheese. This meal is all about scraps, so it’s a great time to use that little tiny bit of whatever you have in the fridge. Remember, it’s going to to get fried, so it can’t be bad.

Now we’re ready to get frying. Film a skillet with vegetable oil and set to medium-high. Meanwhile, dip each chicken piece into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Really press that bread into the chicken and get as much to stick as you can. Once you have all of your pieces coated, lay them into the hot oil and fry on each side until golden. I’ll usually pop them into a hot oven (I usually have tater tots in there anyway) just to finish them off.

Done! A delicious Sunday-night meal that will satisfy your inner-need to order off the kids menu.

Make sure to use vegetable oil here and not olive oil. Olive oil is not sturdy enough to handle the high heat. This same method can be used with any meat; it’s delicious on pork chops or a sturdy fish such as halibut or cod.

Chicken Fingers
Serves 2

1/2 pounds chicken breast tenders
4 slices fresh bread, torn into large pieces
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons cream (substitute milk, buttermilk or half and half)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350. Pulse bread chunks in a food processor to desired texture. Empty bread into a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Salt and pepper the flour in another shallow dish. Whisk eggs, mustard, hot sauce and cream into a shallow bowl. Working one piece at a time, coat chicken in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip floured pieces into egg mixture. Press dipped pieces into the breadcrumbs, ensuring an even coating.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet on medium high until hot, about 3 minutes. Lay chicken pieces in (work in two batches if necessary, adding more oil to the second round if needed.) Fry 3-5 minutes or until golden brown, then flip until both sides are golden. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 350 for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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