Totally healthy and surprisingly crispy, these juicy chicken tenders are crisped with a panko and Parmesan crunch with directions for baking or cooking in the air fryer.
I think my Smudge pretty much lived on Dino Nuggets from the day she began “choosing” her own solid food as she blossomed into a picky-eating toddler until the time she finally released her hold on those toaster oven chicks by the time she was 5 or 6 year old.
Whether you’ve had McDonald’s chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, chicken strips, or chicken fingers, the question has always been who has the best, and whether you can actually get a good and juicy, crispy piece of chicken without deep fat frying them in a tub of oil that only loads on the calories and the greasy bites. Because while there are times for enjoying a crunchy piece of finger lickin’ good fried chicken, weeknight dinners that need to be ready quick and with minimal mess isn’t exactly that time.
But unlike the deep fried variety, this buttermilk chicken tender recipe made with panko and a bit of Parmesan cheese delivers two wholesome methods to achieve that crispy, crunchy bite by simply baking or air frying for any fast weeknight meal. And they’re so good you just might break them out for the weekend too.
This recipe comes from Aimée Wimbush-Baourgue, the author of the recipe blog Simple Bites, and her cookbook The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Everyday, featuring 100 wholesome, family-focused recipes inspired by her modern yet homespun kitchen where everyone is invited to take a seat and dig in alongside her.
Aimée’s food philosophy is one I bet most of us share when she says cooking is an act of love. “Preparing food is one of the most familiar and natural gestures of caring for my family,” she says about her cooking both in her cookbook and on her blog where she delivers nutritious, seasonal, fairly simple but totally delicious meals that are all about balance and both adult and kid-approved.
And as one of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow, Aimée inspires all of us cooks in the kitchen no matter which platform she’s sharing on. And thanks to Instagram, you guys helped me choose this recipe as the one to share from her new cookbook.
Because who won’t admit to loving a healthier crispy chicken tender??
How to Make Baked Crispy Chicken Tenders
Getting a crispy baked chicken can be a challenge, but Amy’s secrets make it easy.
First, use Japanese panko in lieu of breadcrumbs. The flakier panko keeps the dredged coating crispier compared to regular, finer bread crumbs. Amy’s tip to add browned butter to the panko crumbs helps create a more golden crust when baked.
I added another layer of flavor by adding Parmesan cheese to the mix for good measure.
To make sure the chicken breasts are juicy and tender, a buttermilk marinade tenderizes the strips and is best if allowed to soak overnight.
If you’re looking for an even crispier chicken tender that doesn’t take any more time and zero oil but delivers an amazingly crispy crunch you’ve gotta try the air fryer.
How to Make Chicken Tenders In the Air Fryer
Air fryers have been pegged the appliance to have in 2018 for anyone looking to eliminate cooking with the added fat of frying without sacrificing taste.
Having an extra appliance in the kitchen was not really in my plan. The first air fryer I bought was a smaller size, but I returned it after realizing I would be creating and testing recipes for others, and not just our little family of three. Instead, I went with the larger Power AirFryer 5.3 qt. model that came in at #2 on Consumer Reports, and through other research customers said they liked best because it was really easy to clean. Sold! (The NuWave came in at #1 but the basket is supposedly harder to clean. Anyone have comments on this?)
One of the big questions I had was do you need to use oil in an air fryer? For this model and this recipe the answer is no! Simply lay the breaded chicken in the preheated basket, and air fry away.
These chicken tenders were so crispy that when I made and shared them on my Instagram Stories, the crunch was unmistakable, and I received so many comments from people saying that in itself sold them on getting an air fryer for themselves. I’m in, are you?
How to Make These Fingers a Meal
A few easy ideas for simple sides to make this family favorite a meal everyone will crave.
- 5 Ingredient Slow-Cooker Creamed Corn
- Autumn Cous Cous Salad
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- Dilled Red Potatoes and Peas
- Easy 5-Minute Parmesan Zucchini
- Loaded Twice Baked Red Potatoes
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1½ cups panko crumbs
- ¼ cup ground Parmesan cheese
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup flour
- Honey mustard sauce, barbecue sauce or Ranch dressing for dipping
- Use a chef's knife to trim the fat from the chicken breasts and cut into tenders, about 5 per breast. Tap the thicker parts of the tenders with the flat part of the knife to even the thickness, about ½ inch at most.
- In a bowl or jar with a fitted lid, combine the buttermilk with half of the Worcestershire sauce, and half of the salt and pepper and paprika. Add to a gallon freezer bag with the chicken and refrigerate for at least 6 hours up to overnight.
- If baking, position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly brush a wire rack with oil and place it on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, watching closely as the butter melts and begins to foam and changes to a golden color with a nutty aroma. Remove the browned butter from the heat and let cook slightly.
- Combine the panko and the butter on a plate, tossing until well combined, then add the Parmesan cheese and toss. In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining Worcestershire sauce. On another plate, toss the flour with the remaining salt, pepper and smoked paprika.
- Drain the chicken and discard the buttermilk. Using tongs, work with one tender at a time and dredge the chicken through the flour to coat, then the egg, and then the panko.
- To Bake
- Place the crumb-coated chicken on the prepared rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the panko is pale golden and the chicken is cooked through. Finish the chicken under the broiler for a crispier, more browned coating.
- To Air Fry
- Preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Place the chicken tenders in the basket, adding in batches so not to crowd or overlap. Cook for 13-15 flipping the chicken half way through so they're crispy on both sides. Repeat with the remaining tenders.
- Serve with sauces. Can be refrigerated for 3 days. Freeze for up to 2 months and reheat from frozen for 20-25 min at 350°F.
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