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Give a hand for homemade chicken fingers

By America's Test Kitchen Staff
updated 10:07 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
These chicken fingers get a quick saute to make them crispy, but if you do go the deep-fried route, here's what you need to know. These chicken fingers get a quick saute to make them crispy, but if you do go the deep-fried route, here's what you need to know.
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Give it a fry
Give it a fry
Give it a fry
Give it a fry
Give it a fry
Give it a fry
Give it a fry
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The cooks at America's Test Kitchen love chicken fingers
  • They found that packaged versions were full of preservatives
  • This homemade recipe is kid-friendly and delicious
  • Make batches ahead and freeze them for up to a month

Editor's note: America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full¬time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most foolproof recipe. America's Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines, and on our two public television cooking shows.

(CNN) -- This recipe for Chicken Fingers comes from our new book, The Make-Ahead Cook, which presents eight different strategies that provide solutions for the time-pressed cook who appreciates the ease of make-ahead meals, but demands great taste. Each chapter focuses on a different path in make-ahead cooking, taking into account a variety of needs, budgets, and lifestyles, adding up to what is essentially eight cookbooks in one.

We developed this recipe because when we looked at the ingredient list on pre-packaged chicken fingers, we found way too many preservatives we couldn't pronounce. And while we like the idea of having something as simple and adaptable as chicken fingers on hand, we wondered if we could stock our freezer with kid-friendly, great-tasting chicken fingers with minimal effort. Here's how we did it.

America's Test Kitchen: The Make-Ahead Cook Book

Brining makes the chicken very juicy so it doesn\'t dry out as it cooks.
Brining makes the chicken very juicy so it doesn't dry out as it cooks.

Brine your bird:

We had a hunch that all those preservatives were helping to keep the chicken moist during the reheat, so we started by thinking about how to keep the chicken as moist as possible. Brining turned out to be the best solution: It makes the chicken very juicy so it doesn't dry out as it cooks. To give our chicken fingers great flavor, we added a dash of Worcestershire sauce to the brine and onion and garlic powder to the breading.

America's Test Kitchen: Farro, White Bean, and Broccoli Rabe Gratin

The crispier, the better:

To get a crisp coating on our chicken even after reheating, we swapped traditional bread crumbs for ultracrisp panko bread crumbs and tried a few different cooking techniques. Deep-frying the chicken fingers was a lot of work for little payoff. Next, we tried to mimic frying by tossing the breading with oil and baking the chicken, but on the reheat the chicken was dry and the coating was sandy. Sautéing turned out to be the winning technique: By the time the breading fried up supercrisp and golden, the chicken was cooked through but still tender and moist, and we avoided all the mess and waste of deep frying.

America's Test Kitchen: Essential Equipment for the Make-Ahead Cook

Storing and cooking:

To store the chicken fingers, simply transfer the cooled chicken to zipper-lock freezer bags, press out air, and seal. They're good for for up to 1 month. To cook, just heat the oven to 350 degrees, place chicken fingers on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is heated through and crisp, about 30 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through baking.

America's Test Kitchen: Make-Ahead Stuffed Shells

Chicken Fingers Recipe

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Brilliant Eggs Benedict
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Brilliant Eggs Benedict Brilliant Eggs Benedict

(Don't brine the chicken for longer than 30 minutes or it will be too salty.)

Ingredients:

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 3/4-inch-wide strips

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

3 large eggs

2 cups panko bread crumbs, toasted

3/4 cup vegetable oil

To prep:

1. Dissolve 1 tablespoon salt and Worcestershire in 2 cups cold water in large bowl. Submerge chicken in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Combine flour, onion powder, granulated garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in shallow dish. Lightly beat eggs in second shallow dish. Spread panko in third shallow dish. Working in batches, dredge chicken in flour mixture, dip in eggs, then coat with panko, pressing gently to adhere; transfer to large plate.

3. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Heat 1/4 cup oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Lay one-third of chicken in skillet and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to prepared rack and wipe out skillet. Repeat shallow frying twice more with remaining oil and chicken. Let chicken cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

To store:

4. Transfer cooled chicken fingers to zipper-lock freezer bags, press out air, and seal. Freeze for up to 1 month. (Do not thaw before reheating.)

To finish and serve:

5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken fingers on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake until heated through and crisp, about 30 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through baking. Serve.

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