Food52 co-founder Merrill Stubbs shares her mother's recipe for chicken fingers. Because when something's this good, why mess with tradition?
My mother's chicken fingers were among our favorite treats growing up. I'm sure they were the most requested food item for any birthday party we had at home between the ages of 5 and 12 -- which was most of them. After all, this was back in the 80s, when a well-orchestrated scavenger hunt or a game of Sardines constituted a birthday party.
The chicken fingers were just as good the next day, long after the birthday cake crumbs ground into the rug by little feet had been vacuumed away, either reheated gently in a warm oven or -- yes, I'll admit it -- eaten straight from the fridge.
The breadcrumb coating my mother used was packed full of flavor (and plenty of salt, which is key), and she was careful not to overcook the chicken, so it was tender rather than stringy. She sautéed the chicken fingers in a mixture of oil and butter and drained them well on paper towels, so they were never greasy.
After some strategic interviews with my mother about her process and some fiddling with the breading ingredients, I think I've come up with a reasonable simulation of her beloved chicken fingers. So far, my own daughter, Clara, seems to like them. It remains to be seen if she'll request them for birthday parties.
Makes 10 to 12 large chicken fingers
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1 cup dry breadcrumbs (panko works well)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise into 1-inch strips and pounded gently until about 1/3-inch thick
1. Put the flour in a wide, shallow dish and season generously with salt and pepper -- stir through with a fork.
2. Put the breadcrumbs in a second wide, shallow dish, add the parmesan and oregano, and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir through until everything is well-combined.
3. Crack the eggs into a third dish and beat them lightly with the fork.
4. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels and get out a large, clean plate. Coat each of the chicken strips with the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Dip them in the egg mixture, and then in the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly so that the breadcrumbs adhere. As you finish each one, set it on the plate.
5. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy skillet (I like to use cast iron) over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter has finished foaming and just starts to brown, gently lay half of the chicken strips in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown and crispy. Use tongs to turn them over and cook for another minute or two, until both sides are evenly browned and the chicken is cooked through. Transfer the chicken fingers to the paper-towel lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the chicken, adding more oil and butter to the pan as needed. Serve the chicken fingers warm. (It reheats well in a 250-degree oven the next day.)
Photos by James Ransom