I have to be honest here, I haven't ordered chicken tenders out in public since '93. They are fun to make though, and a lot of my readers have kids, and kids like these fried little puppies almost as much as, well, puppies. Not fried puppies of course, because that would be wrong. Moving on...
I want to take a moment to thank all of Japan for panko. This incarnation of bread crumbs has changed my life. If it can be breaded and fried in my house, it will be breaded in panko. Always crunchy, never heavy. LOVE. IT. (You MUST try it on fried okra. It's a revelation)
The marinade I use here is almost the same as what I use on my classic fried chicken. You may think there's a lot of salt here, and there is, but you don't taste it in the finished product. I won't go into the science of brining (if you e-mail me I'll be happy to explain), but know that the magic of food science is at work here. What you end up with isn't salty at all, but unfailingly juicy and flavorful. You can also probably tell from the picture at the end of this recipe that I let my tenders get a little darker than most folks. I assure you this was on purpose. I like the added flavor of a dark brown crust. Not, mind you, burnt. Just darker than average. Alright, let's fry some stuff!
Buttermilk-Brined Chicken Tenders
2lbs chicken tenders
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup honey
2 cups buttermilk
2 Tablespoons coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons old bay seasoning
1 Tablespoon Sriracha
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten with 1 cup milk
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Oil for frying
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, and salt until honey is melted and salt is mostly dissolved (technically the honey won't "melt," but it reaches a nice fluid consistency). Whisk in the buttermilk, old bay and Sriracha to combine. Add the chicken and refrigerate 1-4 hours (4 would be ideal, don't go much beyond that though), turning occasionally.
|I almost didn't take a picture of this step. It's not exactly pretty...|
Dump the chicken into a colander and let the marinade drain off. Set up your breading station: the flour, egg/milk combo, and panko each get their own bowl, and place a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Dredge each chicken tender in the flour and shake off the excess, then dunk in the egg wash, and coat in panko. Set each tender on the rack.
|Ready to meet their destiny|
Once you're done breading, pour 1 inch of oil in a heavy frying pan and heat on medium to 350* (you do have a candy/oil thermometer, right?). While the oil heats, 2 things are going on with your resting tenders: 1.) the coating will "set," giving you a crispier result and 2.) it will take the chill off, which will allow them to cook more evenly and thoroughly.
*if you have a fry daddy or deep fryer, definitely use that. I don't have one yet, so I do it the old fashioned way: in a cast-iron skillet. Please note that I do accept gifts and bribes, though...
Drop the tenders in the hot oil 2 or 3 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Don't overcrowd! Fry about 5 or 6 minutes, turning once, until deeply browned. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve to happy childern with their favorite dipping sauce and fries. Or mashed potatoes. Or if you want to be classy like me, lemon-thyme orzo*...
*Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta and a favorite in our house. Just boil till al dente, toss with melted butter, salt, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and a couple teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves
Try these for dinner tonight. Hope you enjoy them!