Another small step for parents: Homemade Chicken Fingers with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

Lisa writes: I liked your post about Macaroni and Cheese earlier in the week though in my house it’s chicken fingers almost every night. There are some ok brands that I’ve found (like Bell and Evans), but I’d like to make them myself every so often (if not more).  I know there’s nothing to it, but it seems I would have to plan it out a bit. I’ve got the chicken (lovely pic, huh?), now what?

Tony’s take: Ok, Lisa, I already had my mac-and-cheese rant earlier this week, so I won’t get on the soap box again. It does amaze me the power that chicken nuggets have over kids, though. And it does put parents in a bind, because breading small pieces of chicken probably falls last on their list of necessary or achievable tasks. And it’s easy for me to say because  I don’t have any kids (and I know parents hate when non-parents give them parenting advice), but I think it’s doable. I have a butt-load of chicken-finger experience as we make a whole bunch of them for our b.good stores and so I know that it’s really not that hard. It’s just a question of time and gameplanning it out (and a couple of little tricks so these don’t taste “baked”). Cut chicken breasts or tenderloins into 1-inch strips, toss them with a little salt and pepper, then set up bowls of flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs. And, now, here is where the gameplanning comes into play: get a couple of helpers (preferably the same crew that will be eating these later) and have one person flour, one egg, and one pat on the breadcrumbs. Do up a large batch (like 50 pieces or 3 or 4 lb. of chicken), set them on a baking sheet, and freeze whatever you’re not going to eat tonight (give the chicken pieces an hour in the freezer and they will firm up and you can transfer them to zip-top bags for whenever the mood strikes). Then bake up a batch and whisk together a quick (no-cook) sweet and sour dipping sauce (make extra of this as well). And it will work: prepare this large batch of chicken fingers and a mac and cheese every week and I promise your kids will never end up in therapy complaining about how you never cooked for them!

Yields 16 pieces, serves 3 to 4. Prep time: 20 minutes; Cook time: about 15 minutes. Note: double or triple the amounts below as desired.

What you need:

Ingredients: Chicken (1 lb. = 1 batch), S+P, garlic powder, paprika, fresh thyme (very optional)  flour, eggs (3 = 1 batch), panko breadcrumbs, olive oil, ketchup, honey, pineapple juice, Dijon mustard soy sauce, rice vinegar

Equipment: Cutting board, chef”s knife, 3 bowls (for breading), 1 bowl for chicken, whisk, baking sheets (for baking and for freezing extra), medium bowl (for sauce)

How to do it: Prepare the chicken: Cut chicken breasts (1 lb. or 2 large breasts for a single batch) into 1-inch strips – try to make them even, though don’t stress it (each should be about 1 oz. giving you anywhere between 12 and 16 pieces). Set the chicken  in a medium bowl and toss with some salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp. and 1/2 tsp. respectively) and a large pinch of garlic powder and paprika if your kids won’t freak about a little flavor; omit both if you want to keep things simple.

Bread the chicken: Put about 1 cup flour in a shallow bowl (like a pie plate), 3 eggs (beaten) in another, and a couple cups of Panko breadcrumbs in the last; Panko is coarse which will give the chicken fingers some crunch. To the breadcrumbs, add a splash of olive oil (about 1 Tbs.) some salt (about 1/2 tsp.) and some chopped fresh thyme (about 1 tsp.) if you’re feeling crazy and your kids can handle it. Dip one of the strips of chicken first in the flour (shaking off any excess), then drop it in the egg and flip a couple of times so it’s coated, before transferring to the breadcrumbs where you’ll want to pat/press the breadcrumbs so they stick properly. Note: if you’re doing this alone, use tongs for dipping in the eggs so your fingers don’t get breaded just like the chicken.

Bake and make the dipping sauce: Heat the oven to 425 and arrange the chicken fingers on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake them until they brown and are completely firm to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Cut into a thicker piece to check it’s cooked through. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce (halve this amount if you only want enough for tonight): in a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup ketchup with 1/4 cup each honey and pineapple juice, and 1 Tbs. each soy sauce, rice vinegar,  and Dijon mustard. Add a little more honey if you’d like the sauce sweeter.

Serve the chicken fingers with the sauce for dipping and feel good about yourself.

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