I’ve had a soft spot for chicken fingers for as long as I can remember. As a kid, they were practically a diet staple, especially after my parents started enforcing my pediatrician’s Draconian limitations on pizza and grilled cheese. I don’t like to think about those years.
Some of my happiest memories actually involve eating chicken fingers at the local greasy spoon during my tween summers in Northeast Harbor. Nothing made me feel cooler than riding my bike into town and eating chicken fingers and onion rings at a picnic table with my Abercrombie-clad friends. Braces and pixie-cut be damned, eating fried foods without adult supervision was the definition of grown-up glamour!
While I now have a metal-free smile and a more flattering haircut, I still love chicken fingers as much as I did as an eleven-year-old. Whether baked or fried, breaded or battered, there’s something intensely comforting about a really good tender. However, I do have a few requirements when it comes to enjoying these chicken delights:
1. They must be crispy. There is nothing worse than a damp, soggy tender.
2. They must contain a solid amount of all white meat chicken. Grayish chicken and/or gristly meat is unacceptable. I get a little gag-y just thinking about it.
3. They must not be overcooked. It is beyond upsetting to bite into a chicken finger and discover stringy, dry meat that’s been cooked to the point of carbonization.
I know that having chicken finger requirements may seem high maintenance, but long hair don’t care. The heart wants what it wants when it comes to chicken fingers, and I refuse to settle.
Weirdly, my chicken finger craving has been pretty intense recently, and I’m only moderately ashamed to admit that I have taste-tested the chicken fingers from at least five different establishments over the past couple of months. I’m sad to report that I’ve been disappointed every single time. The truth is, chicken fingers just don’t travel that well, and there’s almost zero chance that they won’t become soggy during the 10-40 minute period that they spend in transit to your door. Needless to say, this is devastating when you’ve spent several hours researching said chicken fingers on the internet.
Realistically, the only way to eat hot crispy chicken fingers in the comfort of your own bed home is to make them yourself. And no, I’m not talking about re-heating the frozen ones, people. Since deep-frying things can be scary, I’ve been working on perfecting the baked chicken finger, which is significantly less dangerous and fattening than its oil-drenched counterpart. I’ve experimented with a variety of dredging methods and coatings (Panko, regular breadcrumbs, pretzels, etc.), but the clear winner was these Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders with Sriracha Honey Mustard.
I’m practically bursting with pride over these beautiful babies, as they are everything that I could have ever dreamed of in a baked chicken tender. There is truly nothing better than juicy chicken breast coated in puffed rice cereal and baked to crispy golden brown perfection. Honestly, it caused me extreme physical pain to take pictures of the tantalizing tenders before shamelessly crushing upwards of six of them in my living room with reckless abandon. The fact that I felt compelled to eat so many of them cold at 11am yesterday morning, especially in light of Monday’s food hangover, is a testament to the deliciously addictive nature of these chicken fingers. I have no regrets.
While I was very full after my chicken finger feast yesterday, I didn’t feel all that guilty afterwards because these baked tenders are a relatively healthy indulgence. Instead of the traditional coating of flour, eggs and breadcrumbs, I soaked my tenders in fat-free buttermilk for a few hours before rolling them in seasoned whole-grain Rice Krispies, which are both delightfully crunchy and low-cal. These baked bad boys are packed with lean protein, and they also happen to be gluten-free, which you know is all the rage right now. You’re welcome.
Let’s quickly discuss the Sriracha Honey Mustard. When it comes to dressing my chicken fingers in public settings, I tend to be a no-fuss traditionalist and just use half a bottle (or 27 tiny packets) of ketchup for dipping. However, when making my own dipping sauce, I shall now live and die by Sriracha Honey Mustard. Creamy and slightly sweet with a serious kick from the epic combination of Dijon and Sriracha, this stuff is happiness in sauce form. I’m also pleased to inform you that like the chicken tenders, the sauce is virtually fat-free, since it gets its creaminess from Greek yogurt instead of the scary fattiness that is mayonnaise. Joy of joys.
Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders dipped in the aforementioned gloriousness are to die for, but Sriracha Honey Mustard can be put to work in so many saucy ways. I strongly recommend using it as a salad dressing, spreading it on sandwiches and burgers, drizzling it on pizza or tacos (yep), and serving it as a dip for everything from vegetables to grilled cheese. The possibilities are endless, so you should probably just keep a giant vat of this in your fridge at all times.
If you’re thinking that making your own chicken tenders and dipping sauce seems like a hassle, stop it. The process is laughably simple and only requires about 20 minutes of hands-on prep time. Yes, there are a couple secrets to getting your chicken fingies as crispy as possible, but they’re not complicated. First, you need to bake your tenders on a wire rack so that they get 360 degree air circulation while they bake. (If you don’t have a wire rack, please go by one for $2.99 at CVS immediately.) Second, you need to mist your tenders with cooking spray (I like this one) before you bake them and again halfway through the cooking time. I am incapable of giving you any sort of real explanation about why this makes the chicken tenders extra crispy, but it does, and it is awesome.
Do the funky chicken, friends.
Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders with Sriracha Honey Mustard: (Serves 2-4)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenders/tenderloins
1 cup low-fat or fat-free buttermilk (You can also make your own buttermilk by following the directions here.)
3 cups crispy brown rice cereal (You can use any brand you like, but Rice Krispies is always a good choice.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
For the Sriracha Honey Mustard:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoons Sriracha
Preparing your Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders with Sriracha Honey Mustard:
-Place the chicken tenders in a shallow baking dish. (You won’t have quite as many chicken tenders as you see pictured. I doubled the recipe for personal reasons.)
-Once your tenders have marinated, remove them from the fridge and pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray, place it on top of a baking sheet and set aside. (Note: Depending on the size of your rack, you may need to use two, or bake the chicken tenders in batches.)
-Pour the crispy brown rice cereal into a shallow bowl or baking dish.
-Use your hands to lightly crush the cereal. You don’t want to pulverize the rice, but you do want to break it up into smaller pieces so that it will stick to the chicken more easily.
-Now it’s time to coat your chicken fingers. I like to form an assembly line by placing the chicken tenders/buttermilk dish next to the crispy rice mixture, followed by the prepared wire rack.
-Remove the tenderloins from the buttermilk one at a time, shaking lightly to remove any excess liquid. Place each tender in the crispy rice mixture and use your hands to press the cereal onto the chicken. You want each tender to be as thoroughly coated as possible, people. I would like to emphasize the importance of this coating step with a GIANT photo…
-Transfer the chicken tenders to the oven and bake for 11 minutes. Carefully remove the tray from the oven, flip the chicken fingers over and mist again with cooking spray. Return them to the oven and bake for another 11 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the tenders are golden brown.
-Whisk until smooth.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenders/tenderloins
- 1 cup fat-free buttermilk
- 3 cups crispy brown rice cereal (You can use any brand you like, but Rice Krispies is always a good choice.)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- Cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoons Sriracha
- Place the chicken tenders in a shallow baking dish. (You won’t have quite as many chicken tenders as you see pictured. I doubled the recipe for personal reasons.) Pour the buttermilk over the chicken tenders and make sure that they are well coated in the liquid. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (Feel free to let them marinate overnight if you’re a planner!)
- Once your tenders have marinated, remove them from the fridge and pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray, place it on top of a baking sheet and set aside. (Note: Depending on the size of your rack, you may need to use two, or bake the chicken tenders in batches.)
- Pour the crispy brown rice cereal into a shallow bowl or baking dish. Use your hands to lightly crush the cereal. You don’t want to pulverize the rice, but you do want to break it up into smaller pieces so that it will stick to the chicken more easily. Add the paprika, salt and white pepper to the cereal and mix to combine.
- Now it’s time to coat your chicken fingers. I like to form an assembly line by placing the chicken tenders/buttermilk dish next to the crispy rice mixture, followed by the prepared wire rack.
- Remove the tenderloins from the buttermilk one at a time, shaking lightly to remove any excess liquid. Place each tender in the crispy rice mixture and use your hands to press the cereal onto the chicken. You want each tender to be thoroughly coated, people.
- Place the coated tenders on a wire rack and mist with cooking spray. (I like to use an olive oil spray, but any old spray will work.)
- Transfer the chicken tenders to the oven and bake for 11 minutes. Carefully remove the tray from the oven, flip the chicken fingers over and mist again with cooking spray. Return them to the oven and bake for another 11 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the tenders are golden brown.
- While your chicken fingers are cooking, prepare your fancy dipping sauce. Place all the ingredient for the Sriracha Honey Mustard in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth.
- Serve your crispy chicken tenders hot alongside Sriracha Honey Mustard.
I’m thrilled to be a part of Food Network’s Comfort Food Feast this week. For more comforting chicken recipes, check out the amazing blogs below.
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili with Green Chilies
The Heritage Cook: Gluten-Free Fried Chicken Cutlets with Madeira Gravy
Weelicious: Roast Chicken with Caramelized Lemons
Devour: Giada’s Top Chicken Dinners
Taste With The Eyes: Griddled Gochujang Chicken Sandwich, “Kimchi” Slaw and Seaweed Mayo
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Italian Chicken Stew with Olives and Kale
Red or Green?: Oven-Fried Tortilla Chicken Drumsticks
Blue Apron Blog: 5 Not Boring Weeknight Chicken Recipes
Virtually Homemade: Chicken Puttanesca
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Spicy Deep Fried Chicken
Dishing with Divya: Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables
In Jennie’s Kitchen: How to Roast a Chicken
FN Dish: Winning Chicken Dinners