Shaking the notion of kid food from the Etch-a-Sketch of our minds not only clears the slate for children to explore a world of different flavors, it also removes any judgment adults might feel for digging into foods such as chicken nuggets, pizza and mac and cheese. Those dishes can hit the spot for anyone at any age, and depending on how they are prepared, they can also be good for you.
These crispy chicken tenders with the accompanying dipping sauce are a prime example. Healthfully baked, they get their crunchy exterior from a coating of crushed, crispy rice cereal and almonds, which is gently seasoned with paprika, garlic, salt and pepper.
Part of what makes the chicken strips so tasty is a buttermilk bath, which tenderizes them a bit, helps keep the meat moist and provides a surface for the coating to adhere. The buttermilk soak also simplifies the prep and makes the final result lighter compared to the typical dredge in flour and egg.
The coated tenders are then baked on a wire rack set over a sheet pan, which allows for optimal airflow for all-around crunch. The tenders here are served with a three-ingredient, tangy-sweet honey mustard sauce, which provides just the right pop of flavor, but they also happen to taste really good with ketchup, if you prefer. No judgments here.
Crispy Chicken Tenders With Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce
For the chicken:
1½ pounds chicken tenders or skinless, boneless chicken breast pounded to ½-inch thickness and cut into 1-inch wide slices
1 cup low-fat well-shaken buttermilk
3 cups crisp puffed rice cereal (ideally, brown rice cereal)
½ cup (1 ¾ ounces) sliced almonds, chopped
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the dipping sauce:
⅓ cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
In a medium bowl, combine the chicken with the buttermilk, toss to coat, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to 2 hours.
When ready to cook, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then place a wire rack on top.
Put the rice cereal in a resealable plastic bag, squeeze out excess air and, using a rolling pin or mallet, crush until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Transfer the crushed cereal to a shallow bowl or dish such as an 8-inch square baking dish. Add the almonds, paprika, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Working with one or two pieces at a time, remove the chicken from the buttermilk marinade, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Dip the chicken in the crumb mixture and coat well, pressing lightly on the chicken so the crumbs adhere.
Transfer the chicken to the prepared rack and roast for about 12 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. (Discard the remaining buttermilk marinade and crumb coating.)
While the chicken is cooking, in a small dish, stir the mustard, honey and the mayonnaise until well combined.
Serve the chicken tenders hot or warm, with the sauce on the side for dipping.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings; about 16 pieces of chicken and 9 tablespoons sauce
Make ahead: The chicken tenders need to be brined in the buttermilk for at least 20 minutes (or up to 2 hours) before cooking.
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