Chicken Dinners: Buttermilk-Thyme Chicken Tenders with Cranberry Mustard Sauce and Sweet Potato Fries
I was torn with this one. Do I go healthy, or tasty? I researched recipes, soul-searched a bit, and then decided that there are some foods that are just meant to be fried, not oven-baked—chicken tenders and french fries included. I know, frying isn't good for you, but tossing on a sheet pan with a mist of oil isn't gonna get that addictive flavor and crispiness that makes a chicken tender or fry worth eating. Anyway, I don't fry all the time. Or so I tell myself.
To make sure that the chicken tenders were both juicy and crisp, I looked to a recent recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt for Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sandwiches. To help the chicken tenders retain moisture, I followed the brining step, but for a much shorter time. For the flour coating, I added thyme, and an assortment of spices and flavorings to the dry mix. For the egg dip, I picked the subtle tanginess of buttermilk. And for the crispiest, most crunchiest tenders, I followed the same lead as the Chick-Fil-A method and mixed a bit of the egg/buttermilk mixture into the dry mix. The reason? When the chicken tenders are dipped in to coat, the moister, coarser dry mix creates a craggy coating which fries up extra crunchy.
The chicken was easy compared to the sweet potato fries. Unlike a regular potato, the composition of a sweet potato is such that it simply resists getting crunchy, even in a hot oil fry. And I wanted to keep the method simple (no pre-cook, pre-fry, or pre-freeze). Straight frying results in soft and wimpy fries, so a common technique is to coat the potatoes with something that will actually crisp up. I fried up a few batches, testing coatings to see which became the crispiest. Straight cornstarch was a disaster, as was wheat flour. Rice flour fared slightly better, but not good enough. I wondered if the same coating method as the chicken tenders would work for the fries. I mixed up a similar dry mix as for the tenders (but with rice flour), then stirred in a few tablespoons of buttermilk to moisten. I dipped the potato sticks in the buttermilk, then into the dry, and fried. The result? Crisp fries covered in tiny bits of crunchy coating. Now I will admit that the texture will never compare to a regular potato fry, but for a sweet potato fry it's pretty darn good.
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About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com. Follow Yvonne on Twitter.