The chicken tender is considered to be a pretty simple cut of meat, but it’s simplicity doesn’t stunt its popularity as there are countless restaurants that dish out thousands of chicken tenders a day. Tenders—sometimes referred to as chicken fingers due to their shape and size—are the strip of muscle that is nestled between the breast and the rib cage. They are very lean, which makes them popular with low fat/high protein diets.
Tenders are really susceptible to flavor, too. The most common preparation for chicken fingers is to batter and fry them and dunk them into a bold sauce—maybe tangy buttermilk dressing or spicy buffalo hot sauce. But they work well in lots of other recipes. Cut them up in chicken salads, grill or sear them for sandwiches, or dice them and use them in pasta sauces. Need an easy party snack? Wrap them in bacon, brush them with BBQ sauce, and throw them on the grill or in the oven.
Chicken tenders are generally small, so they don’t take too long to cook. They can be finished in the oven in less than twenty minutes, which is why I generally like to use them for oven “fried” chicken. It is a little healthier than tossing them in a deep fryer, and they can still be crisp, delicious, and quick.
One of my daughters’ favorite meals is oven fried chicken parmesan. It’s a really easy meal that takes about 20 minutes of prep time and doesn’t take much longer than that to cook. The tenders are breaded using a mixture of crumbled saltines, flour, and seasoning which yields a crispy texture out of the oven. It’s much better to bake from defrosted meat than from frozen because the ice crystals on frozen products can create steam in the oven and result in a soggy breading.
The sauce I use in this recipe can easily be used for just dipping the chicken tenders, or you can dress your favorite pasta with it. I also use the same recipe when I make homemade pizza. It can easily be modified to specific tastes. Add extra crushed red peppers or maybe an extra pinch of sugar or let it reduce a bit longer for a thicker, gravy like consistency. Add chopped fresh herbs to brighten it up, or cream to sweeten and soften the acidity of the sauce. I always tend to make extra so I can freeze and use the sauce for something else later.
Oven Fried Chicken Tenders
8-10 chicken tenders, tendon removed
1 cup flour
1 cup saltines crackers, crumbled or processed in a blender
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 T kosher salt
2 t cracked black pepper
1 t chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 t dried thyme
Egg wash made from 2 eggs, and a splash of milk or water
- To remove the tendon from the tenderloin, grab the end of the tendon between two fingers and pull towards you while scraping the tendon with the blade of a sharp knife. Sometimes it might be necessary to repeat on the other side of the tendon, but it will release itself pretty easily. Repeat this process for all of the tenders.
- Mix the flour, cracker crumb, parmesan with the herbs and seasoning in a large sealable bag.
- Seal the bag and mix all the ingredients together until they are incorporated.
- Place the tenders in the bag two or three at a time and toss to be sure they are completely coated. after the first round of breading is applied to all of the chicken, place them one by one in the egg wash and back in the bag for a second coat of breading.
- Lay them out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper that has been sprayed with vegetable oil.
- Spray the breaded tenders with a light coating of vegetable oil and place in a 400 degree oven.
- After ten minutes of cook time, flip them over and cook for another five to eight minutes.
All Purpose Tomato Sauce
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
One yellow onion, halved with bottom root in tact
1-2 sprig fresh thyme or basil or oregano.
2 t crushed red pepper
1 T salt
1 t sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes, San Marzano are best but any 28 ounce can of tomatoes will do
- Heat the oil and butter in a medium sauce pan.
- Add the crushed red peppers, salt, onion and sugar.
- Cook until the chili flake starts to get a little toasted, then add the garlic and herbs and cook for about a minute.
- Add the can of tomatoes and the salt and bring up to a boil, cutting back to a simmer for about thirty minutes.
- Blend until smooth and adjust the seasoning to your liking. The onion can be removed before blending if you’d like less onion flavor.
- Top the chicken tenders with a little bit of sauce and some grated mozzarella or parmesan and broil until the cheese gets nice and bubbly and brown.
- Enjoy with your favorite pasta and your favorite people.