Homemade “Fast” Food–the Chicken Tender
I still remember when it happened–it was the summer after my junior year of high school, the summer I spent at Interlochen National Music Camp. (The place was unbelievable–eight weeks of nonstop high level music-making in a summer camp setting, orchestra rehearsal every day with a full concert every Sunday, and cabins with bunks and counselors, and horrible cafeteria food, and even uniforms if you can believe it. Powder blue shirts and navy corduroy pants for the boys, corduroy knickers and knee socks for girls. It actually wasn’t so bad–those knickers were indestructible, and we all hated them so much that we totally didn’t care what we did in them and thus felt very free and comfortable sitting on the dirt or cleaning the cabin or whatever…)
(But, as usual, I digress.)
It was also the summer I was starting to look at colleges, so my folks and I combined the Maryland-to-Michigan drive with a couple of stops at colleges for tours and interviews and such. Lotsa road tripping. And most important (to the point of this post, at least), it was the summer the Chicken McNugget was unveiled. (It was also the summer New Coke was abandoned and Classic Coke finally reappeared.)
And man, did we ever eat McNuggets that summer. Heck, if nothing else, it was a New Road Trip Food–we didn’t have to get Quarter Pounders any more, there was now an alternative. A tasty, fried, easy-to-eat-while-driving, comes with a variety of dipping sauces to give one variety, alternative. (I look back and go, eew, what were we thinking?)
Since that summer, my mom says she has never looked at a Chicken McNugget without nausea again, just from eating too many of them. For me, it took reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma to really achieve that gut-deep sick feeling, although once I grew up I grew out of them. (I’m not going to turn this post into an anti-McNugget rant, although I have plenty of ammo for one. Enough other internet blogger types have already done that; a Google search for “Chicken McNugget” and “gross” will give you plenty of places to look. I’m not even going to post the photo of mechanically separated chicken, the primary ingredient in McNuggets…although I might link to it. You were warned.:-)
Now I have offspring of my own, and–guess what!–they love chicken McNuggets. They don’t like burgers, one doesn’t like hot dogs, the other won’t touch cheese of any kind, but they both love chicken McNuggets and the other fast food chains’ versions thereof. We did find some less-than-eight-non-scary-ingredients frozen versions of the breaded nugget, but they are fairly pricey. So, me being me, I undertook the process of trying to make one of my own that could save some money and maybe have even fewer ingredients–or at least, only have ingredients I absolutely know about. It took several tweaks–first the crumbs were too whole-wheaty, then when I marinaded the chicken they weren’t happy with that flavor, and so forth…but last night I think I got it down.
Homemade Baked Chicken Tenders
(Note: I make a habit of, whenever I have heels of bread and/or the bottom of a cracker box with only busted up pieces, saving them in the freezer and then one day tossing them into the food processer to make crumbs. About half and half cracker-and-bread made up this particular mix, I think.)
- Mix half a cup of yogurt and half a cup of milk (or some recipes suggest a cup of buttermilk, but I used yogurt because that’s one of my staples); marinate a couple of pounds of chicken tenders or cut up chicken breasts in it for 15-30 minutes. (I’m not so good on quantities–for a small recipe you could do less yogurt, for a large one you’ll want more. Exactitude is not a big deal here; the chicken should be well covered by the yogurt mixture.)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Into a cup or so of bread crumbs, mix up to half a teaspoon of salt (depending on how salty you like them and how much already-salted-cracker crumb is part of your mix), maybe 1/4 tsp garlic powder (or other seasonings–whatever your own favorite blend is is probably fine. Some folks suggest onion or celery salt, or Mrs. Dash’s…I happen to have garlic powder and none of the above, so it’s what I go with), other seasonings to taste (I use 1/2 tsp dried oregano or basil), and maybe a small handful of grated Parmesan if you think it’ll sell to your target audience. Place on a plate for dredging.
- Prepare a cookie sheet or other flat baking dish; grease lightly or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
- One piece at a time, lift chicken pieces out of yogurt mixture , let excess drip off but leave a lot on there, and dredge in crumb mixture; lay on cookie sheet with space between each one
- Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked all the way through.
That’s it, and it’s fairly easy. Next time I will bake a really big double batch and freeze them–then a minute or two in the microwave will be all it takes to get dinner on the table. The most time- and energy-consuming part is the dredging process, so doing a lot of it at one go will make future eatings much easier…
Do they taste like McNuggets? Not even remotely. But they taste good.