I’m a multi-tasker, and therefore I love when recipes are super versatile to suit any situation. This week, I wanted to come up with delicious option that could work on both the Super Bowl snack table as well as on weeknight dinner plates. (Side note celebration: we’re going to the Super Bowl, baby! Let’s Goooooooo!)
Since (almost) everyone loves a good crispy chicken finger, but (almost) no one loves a smelly kitchen of old frying oil and the sticky residue that clings to every surface post-fry, baking is the way to go. It can be tricky to actually get a nice crunch in the oven, but there are a few key steps to ensure juicy moist chicken, lightly encased in browned, crispy breading.
First, it’s important to maximize flavor and tenderness in the actual chicken meat before cooking. Soak the chicken strips in milk, or buttermilk, seasoned liberally with salt & pepper, and grated garlic. The natural acidity and enzymes in the milk tenderizes the chicken, and also acts as a flavor enhancing marinade. I usually allow the pieces to soak for at least 45 minutes prior to cooking.
Next, let’s talk about the standard breading procedure. This is taught in culinary schools worldwide, but is probably not thoroughly explained along the path to home cooking success. The rule to remember is: F.E.B.- Flour, Eggwash, Breading. Set up a work station using deep, flat bottomed dishes lined up along the counter in that order. Start by patting the chicken pieces dry so that the flour can stick to the surface of the meat. The egg then adheres to the four layer, and the breading attaches to the egg. Season each station, to ensure flavor in every layer. Another secret is to add a little cornstarch and baking powder into the flour. The cornstarch helps wick away extra moisture (no sogginess here!), and the baking powder causes a slight chemical reaction for added crispiness.
Next to the breading station, place a wire rack on a baking sheet. This is where your prepped chicken strips will land. Baking the chicken strips elevated on a wire rack allows the air to circulate around each piece, cooking them evenly for that crisp result. If you do not have a wire rack, you can bake them on parchment paper, but there might be a little moisture trapped on the underside, which can cause some sog.
For the dipping sauce, I’m going spicy with the addition of some chipotle in adobo. It’s basically just smoked jalapeños in a sauce full of seasonings. Chipotle is really spicy, and I find that I rarely use a whole can in one shot. My tip: divide the whole can into 4 portions, and seal into zip top bags. Freeze, and use as needed. If you’d like to skip the spice here, no problem. If you’re using buttermilk to marinate your chicken, you can set aside a few Tablespoons (non raw chicken tainted, of course) to stir into the ranch sauce.
Crispy Baked Chicken Strips with Chipotle Ranch Dip
Ingredients for chicken:
- 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into uniform strips
- 2 c. milk or buttermilk
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. corn starch
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 2 c. plain bread crumbs
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
- finely ground Kosher salt & black pepper, as needed
- non stick pan spray
- Place the chicken breast strips into a zip top bag along with milk, grated garlic, 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Seal the bag, and allow to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes. Then, remove the chicken strips from the bag and place them into a baking dish or pan lined with paper towels. Pat the chicken strips dry, and discard the milk marinade.
- Set up the breading station using 3 flat bottomed, high sided dishes. To the first dish, combine flour, corn starch, baking powder, and 1 tsp. kosher salt. To the second dish, add 3 lightly beaten eggs. To the third dish, add the bread crumbs, onion powder, paprika, 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, and mix well. Set a wire rack each into 2 baking sheet pans. Spray the racks with light coating of nonstick spray.
- Bread the chicken strips by first coating each piece in flour, shaking off the excess, then dipping into the beaten egg, allowing any excess to drip off, and finally coating in the bread crumb mixture, again shaking off any excess. Arrange the breaded chicken pieces onto the prepped wire rack sheet trays, allowing 1/2 inch of space between each piece.
- Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 35-40 minutes, until breading is browned and chicken is cooked through, rotating the pans half-way through cooking. Allow to rest and cool for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with Chipotle Ranch Dipping Sauce.
Chipotle Ranch Dipping Sauce
- 2/3 c. sour cream
- 1/3 c. mayonnaise
- 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
- 1/2 tsp. dried chives
- 1-2 Tbs. chipotle in adobo
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. finely ground black pepper
Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl until fully combined. Allow to sit for the flavors to meld for 15 minutes prior to serving.