By David Sax for SAVEUR magazine. This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #141.
Though upscale versions of childhood comfort foods-peanut butter and jelly, corn dogs, s'mores-have colonized restaurant menus, there's one glaring exception. Chicken fingers, the ubiquitous kids' entrée, get little respect.
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Mitzi's Chicken FingersChicken fingers came about in the late 1970s, and they proved to be the perfect utensil-free food for picky children. According to market research from the Mintel Group, chicken fingers were the third most popular item on American menus in 2010, behind steak and Caesar salad.
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Still, as popular as chicken fingers are, the consensus among adult eaters was that the food was child's play and would never grow up.
But the generation gap is murkier than it appears. As I discovered recently at Mitzi's Restaurant, in downtown Winnipeg, Canada, a raging chicken finger fan is hiding below the surface of most adults. At this 33-year-old Chinese restaurant, the lunchtime lineup stretches out the door for homemade chicken fingers.
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Added to the menu in 1988 by owner Peter Eng, who felt he could do better than the frozen ones his kids were eating, the 125 pounds of fingers served daily at Mitzi's (mitzi sounds like the Cantonese word for tasty) are made from scratch. "Others grind [the meat] or mold it," says Shirley Eng, who, like her husband, hails from Hong Kong. "Ours is real chicken." Fresh breasts are sliced into strips, then marinated overnight in salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, paprika, and other seasonings. Flour-dusted and dredged in an egg wash, the chicken is coated in breadcrumbs (ground loaves of supermarket white), and fried in canola oil.
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Unlike the uniform fingers most places serve, Mitzi's are thin, short, and slightly gnarled by the fryer's heat. The breading is light and crisp, and the juicy flesh has just enough spicy, sweet flavor to enliven the chicken, which is best dipped in Mitzi's signature honey-dill sauce.
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Peter Eng's rendition is so good that a food once irksome to him has turned out to be a boon for business. On Mitzi's predominantly Chinese menu, the non-Asian fingers stick out like a, well, sore thumb. Still, says Shirley Eng, they make up 80 percent of Mitzi's business.
Get the Recipe from SAVEUR.com:
Mitzi's Chicken Fingers
FOR THE DIPPING SAUCE:
1½ cups mayonnaise
¼ cup honey
2 tbsp. roughly chopped dill
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. dry mustard powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
FOR THE CHICKEN FINGERS:
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3"-long-by-1"-wide strips
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dry mustard powder
1 cup flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups finely ground fresh breadcrumbs or panko
Canola oil, for frying
1. Make the dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise with the honey, dill, mustard powder, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and stir together until smooth; set honey-dill dipping sauce aside.
2. Make the chicken fingers: In a medium bowl, toss together chicken, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and mustard; set aside. Place flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs in 3 separate shallow dishes; set aside. Pour oil to a depth of 2″ into a 6-qt. Dutch oven; heat over medium-high heat until deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Working in batches, coat chicken in flour, shake off excess, and dip in eggs; coat in breadcrumbs. Fry chicken until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining chicken. Serve with dipping sauce.
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