Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust
It’s Friday the 13th and the day before Valentine’s Day. There’s a dizzying array of mouthwatering, chocolate-y recipes out there this week. So…let’s make something fun and crunchy.
Mouse discovers Cheez-It breading. Film at 11.
It didn’t happen exactly like this, but this is close enough.
“I love Cheez-Its—and I love chicken fingers. How about combining them?”
I do believe I was speechless.
Now, I totally know breading fried food with Cheez-It crumbs won’t be a new idea for some folks.
But for me, I imagine that this is sort of what the Big Bang was like. You know, if the Big Bang happened in our kitchen, me with a family-sized box of baked snack crackers in hand. (Now that’s science, Mouse-House style.)
Shortly after that conversation, the questions started to arise. What if we used fishy crackers? Or those rosemary crackers I so dearly love? Oh, oh, or rice crackers! What about that?
(Tell me, tell me: What’s your favorite breading?)
But…one thing at a time. Cheez-Its first.
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: The basic technique
To get a good crust on your chicken fingers, follow this classic deep-frying method:
+Marinate chicken in buttermilk
+Dip chicken in flour, then in egg
+Coat with breading (in this case, Cheez-It crumbs)
+Drop into 350 degree F oil for a few minutes
+If your chicken fingers are really thick, finish in a 400 degree oven for 5-7 minutes
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: A quick note on ingredients
The measurements below are approximate. You may need a little more or less, depending the size of your chicken fingers and how much coating actually sticks to your chicken.
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust
2 1/4 lbs. chicken tenders
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
6-7 cups Cheez-It crackers, or other cheddar cheese cracker
Serves 2-4 for dinner, or more as an appetizer
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: Marinate the chicken
Rinse your chicken and pat it dry.
Put it in a gallon-size zip-top bag. Pour in the buttermilk.
Seal the bag well and smoosh it around with your hands to coat the chicken. Refrigerate like this for at least a few hours or overnight.
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: Set up your breading station
Before you heat up your oil, get your ingredients all set up. You’ll wind up with three shallow bowls (one with flour, one with beaten egg, and one with cracker crumbs) that you’ll use to bread your chicken fingers.
Measure out the flour in a shallow bowl or pan. Add the garlic powder and kosher salt to it. (If you want to add any other spices to the crust, this is the place to do it.)
Mix together with a fork or whisk to combine well.
Set the flour aside.
Next, crack your eggs into a shallow bowl.
With a fork or whisk, beat them until light and fluffy.
Set the beaten egg aside.
Put the crackers in a zip-top bag and smash them to bits with a rolling pin.
Break them into fairly small crumbs, like this:
Pour them out into a shallow dish. I used an 8×8 glass baking pan.
Set the cracker crumbs aside. By now, you should have 3 bowls on your counter:
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: Bread the chicken
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil and set it aside.
Line your bowls up. Here’s the plan: You’re going to dip first in flour, then in egg, then in cracker crumbs, then put the breaded chicken on your prepared pan.
When you’re ready to start, grab your chicken out of the fridge.
Take a piece of buttermilk-coated chicken out of the bag. Don’t wipe the buttermilk off. Drop it right into the seasoned flour.
Turn it over in the flour until it’s completely coated.
Pick the chicken up, and shake it gently over the flour bowl to knock off any excess.
Now drop the floured chicken into the beaten egg.
Turn it over a few times to coat completely in the beaten egg.
Next, drop the chicken into the cracker crumbs. Turn it over a few times to coat completely.
When your chicken is coated in cracker crumbs, set it on your prepared pan.
Repeat with the rest of the chicken until each piece is breaded and on your pan.
When all the chicken is breaded, leave it on the pan so the coating has a chance to set up a little. In the meantime, heat up the oil.
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: Deep-fry the chicken
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Your chicken might cook completely in the oil. But if your chicken fingers are really large, chances are you’ll need to finish them in the oven for a few minutes.
Line another sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.
Pour about 3 inches of oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot. How much oil you need will depend on the size of your pot.
Set your pot on the stove.
If you want to, clip a candy or deep-frying thermometer onto the inside of the pot. (Be sure it doesn’t touch the bottom.) Turn the heat on high. Wait for the oil to reach 350 degrees F. When you fry food at the proper temperature, it actually doesn’t absorb a lot of oil.
I’ve done this a bunch, so I usually don’t use a thermometer. I go more by eye. When I think it’s hot enough, I dip a piece of chicken into the oil. If vigorous bubbles immediately start to form around the chicken, it’s hot enough to fry:
When the oil is hot enough, carefully drop a few pieces of chicken into the oil. Fry in batches like this, so you don’t crowd the pan (and cause the temperature of the oil to drop dramatically, resulting in massive grease absorbtion).
Fry the chicken for a few minutes, give or take, until it develops a handsome brown crust, like this:
When the crust is nice and brown, remove the chicken from the oil and transfer to your prepared pan.
Repeat this process until you’ve fried all your chicken. Turn the stove off and leave your oil there until its cool enough to dispose of (or strain and save).
Cut into one of your chicken fingers and see if it’s cooked through. If your chicken was really thin, it will likely be done. If your pieces were plumper, like mine, they’ll likely still be a little raw in the middle.
If that’s the case, pop the pan into your preheated oven for 5-7 minutes to finish cooking.
When they’re hot out of the oven, sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.
Deep-Fried Chicken Fingers with Crispy Cheez-It Crust: Serve and enjoy!
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