Saturday, January 31, 2015

Easy Homemade Crispy Chicken Fingers

OK... I'll admit it. I'm not a football fan. I never have been. I have however, attended and thrown my fair share of Superbowl parties over the years. Hey! Let's not judge, OK?! I mean, not everyone loves watching sports, but who doesn't love going to parties where you get to hang out with good friends and chow down on all manner of awesome, guilty pleasure inducing munchies? Oh, and the funny or cute, or much loved, three Kleenex commercials that make you smile and cry at the same time. Oh, and there are those spectacular half-time shows that don't exactly stink. ;)

But... let's focus on the food, shall we? For me, there's one particular party food that draws my immediate attention and gets my mouth watering, whenever I see it on a buffet table and that my friends, is chicken. Yum-MEE! And I'm talking about pretty much any form of chicken you can think of. It can be a big pile of sticky, succulent wings, or cheesy, gooey Buffalo chicken dip, or my all time fave... a great big platter of tender, juicy, crunchy chicken fingers and the myriad of delicious dipping sauces that usually accompany them!

There are several ways that you can prepare these golden brown strips of tender boneless chicken and I've tried many of them over the years, but this method is the one that stuck and became my "go-to" recipe, way back when I still had a finicky teen at home who would have consumed nothing but boxed macaroni & cheese and fast food on a daily basis, if I'd let her.

You don't need a huge fry-o-lator like the one they use in restaurants. All you need is a large skillet and a light vegetable or peanut oil to prepare these crunchy golden brown goodies.

Easy Homemade Crispy Chicken Fingers
(Serves 4 - 6 as a main course)
  • 4 Large Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour *see note
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 2 Cups Plain Dried Bread Crumbs  *see note
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Ground Thyme
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Hot Sauce (optional)
  • A Light Oil, for frying (Peanut oil works best, if you have it)
*Notes: It's hard to know the exact measurements you'll need because it depends on how much chicken you start out with, how much of the flour and bread crumbs is going to adhere to each piece, etc. You might need a little more or a little less, but 2 Cups is a good starting point.

Whenever you're frying food, the very first thing you need to do is to make room for your "breading station". You'll want to clear off a good sized area of your counter top as close to your stove top as your kitchen allows, so that you can line up your chicken, flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. Next, it's time to prepare each one of the things that you'll be using in that process.

1. Cut your chicken breasts into strips of equal (or as close as possible) size and place them into a mixing bowl or high sided dish of some kind. I didn't actually photograph this process, because I wasn't initially thinking about it as a possible blog post. I doubt that I need to show 99.9% of you how to do that, anyway. :)

2. Drizzle the chicken strips with a tablespoon or two of light olive or vegetable oil and then season it with 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and thyme. Toss everything together well, so that all of the chicken strips are coated with both oil and seasonings.

*Tip: If things don't seem to be mixing evenly, you can add a little more oil. Just add it in small increments, until all of the chicken is coated nicely. As it is with so many things, you can always add that little extra, but you can't take the excess away quite as easily.

3. In another shallow bowl or baking dish, crack your eggs and beat them well with a fork, then season them with a pinch of salt and pepper. If you like your chicken with a little added kick, this would be the perfect place to add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce.

*Tip: We're split down the middle in this house. Hubbs loves spicy, but I don't. Around here and throughout the many years I've been entertaining, I've found that the best way to please everyone's palate, is to put out a few bold and spicy condiments and dipping sauces and a few mild ones. That way, people can add as much or as little kick as they like, on their own plate. Just be sure to label the sauces, so that people know exactly what they're getting!

4. In a third shallow bowl, add your 1 & 1/2 to 2 cups of flour, breaking up any overly large lumps with your clean fingers or a fork.

5. Season the flour with about 1/2 teaspoon each of onion powder and garlic powder (or garlic salt, if that's all you have on hand) and give it a good stir. A fork will work just fine, but if you have a small whisk, that works a bit better. Just remember to whisk gently, so that you and your counter top don't end up wearing half of it! LOL

*Tip: You might need a bit more or less flour, depending on how many tenders you're making and how much clings to each piece of chicken as you go through the breading process. If you run out, just add a little more flour and seasoning to the bowl as needed.

6. Pour the breadcrumbs out onto a plate with slightly raised sides or into a shallow bowl.

*Tip: I don't use seasoned breadcrumbs and I don't add any of my own. The chicken itself is already well seasoned from step 1 and the eggs and flour have been seasoned as well, so it really isn't necessary You can add a little salt & pepper if you really want to, but I wouldn't recommend adding any herbs or any more granulated powders, etc., because they can burn and become bitter in the hot oil.

7. Now you can start heating your oil and setting up your breading station. As I mentioned at the start of this recipe, try to get the assorted plates and bowls as close to your stove top as you can and also in the order that you'll be using them.

*Tip: If you don't have a lot of counter space, you just have to use the space that you have. As you can see, my breading station was partially comprised of the side of the stove top that wasn't being used to cook something else. I made these while I was at my daughter's house and most of the counter top closest to the stove had been commandeered for a drying rack filled with freshly washed baby bottles for our new grandson! :)

8. Using tongs (or your very clean fingers) dip each piece of chicken into the flour, turning it several times to coat it evenly.

*Tip: If you do decide to do this by hand, which is perfectly acceptable, just make sure to keep one had "wet" and one hand "dry". As you can see in each of these photos, the breading ingredients have a tendency to build up on whatever tool you are using. With the tongs, I just wiped the ends clean with a clean piece of paper towel after every couple of pieces.

I've added a short video, showing how this is done at the bottom of the post.

9. Dip the chicken into the beaten egg mixture, again turning it to fully coat to with the egg.

10. Finally, roll the chicken in the bread crumbs, coating it fully.

*Tip: You can complete these steps with all of your chicken pieces first and lay them out on a clean baking sheet or platter until they're all done and ready to be fried. It's not a bad idea if you have the space, because it gives the coating longer time to fully adhere to the meat. The plus side to that is that helps to keep it from falling off in spots during the frying.

11. Pour enough of your oil into the skillet to come up about 1/2 inch and heat it for 3 or 5 minutes on medium to medium high heat. The oil should be hot, but not smoking. The optimal temperature for frying is about 350 degrees F. If you have a candy thermometer around you can test the oil to see if it's hot enough. Just make sure not to let the silver bulb at the bottom of the thermometer touch the bottom of the skillet, or you'll get a false reading.

12. Place several pieces of chicken into the skillet and let them be for about a minute before you begin turning them. Turn them 2 or 3 times until the chicken feels firm to the touch and the breading is golden brown and crispy.

You can place the cooked chicken fingers in a baking dish or on a large platter or cookie sheet and keep them warm in a 250 degree oven while you are finishing up the batches. If your oven has a "warm" setting,  just use that.

On this particular night, I served these chicken fingers as a meal along with my Oven Baked Seasoned Potato Wedges and a tossed green salad, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, they make an awesome finger food or appetizer on game days or for children's (or adult's) birthday parties.



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