When I think coconut in a savory sense, I think shrimp. But my budget isn't always in the mood for shrimp. Which led me to the chicken tenders because they are a freezer staple.
IQF (individually quick-frozen) chicken tenders will release water as they thaw. Always thaw frozen foods either overnight in the refrigerator, or bagged, under cold water in a bowl in the sink. Once thawed, lay them out on a baking sheet lined with a few layers of paper towels, turning them over so their excess water is absorbed. Be sure to run the baking sheet through your dishwasher, or scrub it well.
The nephew, a student at UCLA, asked me recently for something more interesting to do with a piece of chicken besides frying it. I emailed him this recipe, and the thing he said he liked most about it is that it is so much more crisp than the fried chicken fingers he's made in the past, that tend to go soggy on the downside as soon as they come out of the pan. I utterly love not only his discerning palate, but also that he cooks so well for himself and his roommates.
The dipping sauce is an Asian-inspired thinnish one, so serve lots of napkins. —boulangere
FOR THE STIX
8 to 12 chicken tenders, 2 or 3 per person
2 eggs, whisked with a pinch of salt to let the whites relax and better incorporate with the yolks
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1 cup unsweetened dried coconut (available from any natural foods store with a decent bulk bins section)
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
12 grinds from a pepper mill
FOR THE DIPPING SAUCE
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons lemongrass paste (available in a tube in the produce aisle)
Juice of 2 limes
1" of grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1/2 cup scallion greens sliced 1/4" thick for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Pour the whisked eggs onto a plate. Scatter the flour over a separate plate.
In a bowl, stir together the Panko, coconut, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour them out onto a third plate.
Working with two tenders at a time, dip them into the egg, then into the flour, turning them over so that each side is covered. Dip them back into the egg, then lay them in the crumb/coconut mixture. Cover the tenders with the crumbs, pressing down firmly to adhere a good crust. I know, there’s a whole lot of dipping going on, but if you follow this sequence, you’ll have an excellent crisp crust as opposed to a soggy one, or one where approximately half of it won’t stick to anything but your fingers. And if you use tongs, adherence of all the layers will be even better and your hands won’t be a mess. Transfer tenders to the baking sheet. Discard the egg, flour, and crumbs.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tenders are gently browned and a thermometer inserted in the middle registers 165 degrees.
While the tenders are baking, make the dipping sauce. Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients, except for the Sriracha. First taste the sauce, then add drops of Sriracha if you need it to be hotter. I do. The sauce may appear on the thin side. Not to worry; the crisp, crunchy coating will nap it perfectly without picking up so much that it is overpowering.
Serve the tenders alongside a bowl of the dipping sauce that you’ve garnished with thinly sliced greens of scallions. The chicken will be perfectly tender, the crust crisp with notes of sweet, and the sauce bright and spicy. You might never go back to shrimp.