Chicken Fingers

I could have sworn I wrote this, but can’t find it. Ah well, it lets me do a cooking post.

Chicken fingers turn out to be a serious budget-stretcher. My wife and I will split up a pair of chicken breasts and a salad and neither of us is left hungry. Given that I can eat a couple of whole breasts with some sides, that should be telling.

First, the pan. I use an electric skillet that I can set to 350(f). I’ll add about half an inch of cooking oil. Please, don’t use olive oil as it’s got too low of a smoke point. And that half-inch is (for me) around 3 cups of oil.

Now in my poor man’s state I’ll reuse the oil once or twice. Basically as soon as I’m done I’ll unplug the skillet and let the oil cool. An hour or two later I’ll pour the oil through a strainer into a container – a quart jar, usually. Once fully cooled I’ll smell it and look at it. If it’s got a hint of “burned” to the smell or it’s gotten dark, it’s trashed. I transfer it to my plastic used oil container (I buy the stuff by the gallon), and when that is full it goes out.

Anyway, after I’ve got the oil started it’s time to prep the dredges. The wet is 1 egg and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk for my two breasts for the liquid with a teaspoon of lemon juice, all lightly beaten. The dry is a couple cups of flour with added spices. I’m partial to thyme as I’ve noted before, but I throw in a host of other things which might include cumin and cayenne and cocoa and salt and black pepper and tarragon and dill and… you get the idea. Altogether I’m aiming for 1 to 2 tablespoons of spice per cup of flour, but my picking is as much “this looks good” as anything precise. Mix the dry dredge thoroughly.

To help with cleanup, I’ve got a large sheet pan with a sheet of wax paper that will be my holding point. I lightly sift flour over this.

Finally, it’s chicken time. I’m using breasts because that’s what my wife wants. I’ve used other parts. I’ve used other poultry. (Turkey fingers are interesting, and I love duck fingers.) The first thing I do is trim. I want to remove ligaments – including the primary that’s running down through the breast. This, by the way, usually winds up splitting my breast. Not a big deal. Not everyone needs to remove that one. It depends on how you handle the texture, and you can play tricks in the slicing.

See, you have a choice for slicing. You can make long slices that run down the length of the breast, giving you hand-length fingers. Or you can cut across the grain. You’ll get more but smaller fingers; down to nugget size if that’s your interest. Worth noting, cutting crossgrain means that ligament is very short and not particularly noticeable in an otherwise very easily bitten piece of meat.

I cut my slices about half an inch thick, trying to avoid long tapering sections. I get four to six strips per chicken going lengthwise – up to ten slices crosswise.

I drop everything in the wet and stir for a minute or two. Then it’s pull a piece, dredge it on both sides, put it on the holding sheet, and repeat till all the chicken is out. If I think I need it I add a little milk or a little flour and give each a stir. Then I go back through all the pieces in turn with a wet dip and dry dredge, and back on the sheet. (I should note I keep a sifter with a little flour. As I pick up a piece I lightly flour the wet spot it left.)

Once everything is coated it’s cooking time. I carefully lay in pieces, adding them about half an inch apart till the skillet is full, then set a timer for 3 minutes. Timer goes off and I turn everything then set the timer for 2 minutes. When the timer goes off I check the first piece in to see if the coating looks right – golden brown – and if necessary give it up to one more minute. Beyond that and the chicken is overcooked.

Everything comes out onto a drain rack. Oh, I forgot to tell you the drain rack I use. I use a half-sheet lipped pan, lined with paper towels, with a cake rack that I put in upside down. Yes, I got the idea from Alton Brown. It works very well, thank you.

Anyway, once the chicken is out I wait till the oil is hot again (another advantage of the electric skillet) and do the next batch. Two breasts take two to three batches to cook. Two is better as it lets the oil last longer, but crowding the meat is also bad. eh.

Dipping sauces are dealer’s choice. I’ve mixed honey and mustard, I’ve used a simple teriyaki, I’ve used ranch dressing. My wife likes A-1 and BBQ sauces. I’ve also eaten them plain.

One last point. If you have leftovers, lightly roll them in a couple of paper towels and put them on a plate in the refrigerator. If you seal them in plastic moisture will creep in and the breading will peel off. If you don’t eat them the next day you can now put them in a sealed storage – plastic wrap or a tub – but I’d still add a paper towel to help absorb moisture. If you do it the way I suggested they’re a great snack or meal, even (especially) if you’re brown-bagging your lunch, because the coating stays on.

With the fingers you’re adding bulk with the coating. More important though more subtle, you’re increasing the number of bites it takes to eat. We’ve got some sort of internal trigger that says after X bites you’re full, regardless how big the bites were.

Have fun.

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