The "If at first you don't succeeed..." Chicken Fingers

From the time my baby teeth came in to about my thirteenth birthday, my diet consisted of 3 food groups: Apple juice, chicken fingers, and ketchup. Sometimes I would branch out and have some french fries (the closest thing to a vegetable I ate post-preschool years, pre-nutrition), a slice of pizza, mozzarella sticks - but really, it was all about the chicken nuggets dipped in ketchup, downed with a glass (or 5) of apple juice.

There are only two directions to go from such a childhood obsession with one type of food: lifelong appreciation, or never wanting to see that particular food item again, much less eat it. Two guesses as to which category chicken fingers fall into for me, and the first one doesn't count. Yes, it's true, though I hide it well, I have a soft spot for those little breaded and deep fried comminutions of, well...some part of the chicken, anyway - especially if they're shaped like dinosaurs, as Perdue so endearingly offers the American public. Unfortunately, breaded, deep fried mystery meat is no longer one of Floptimism's Main Food Groups, and the opportunities for my taste buds and these American Delicacies are few and far between.

I only have one response when I encounter a food that I love, but either cannot eat or just don't eat very often: "Well, I'll just have to learn to make it myself, my way." So back in 2010, I tried my hand at Chicken Fingers, and was wholly disappointed. The chicken didn't taste bad - in fact, they were pretty darn good - but it wasn't a recipe for chicken fingers. I thought, in that moment, that maybe I couldn't make them myself, my way.

And then I found these. No, they're not called chicken fingers, but if you use sliced breasts or tenders, that is exactly what you get - delicious, complex, savory-with-a-hint-of-sweetness, moist. In a word, amazing. Okay, two words - they're perfect, too. I have, without a doubt, found my chicken finger recipe, one that I can feel good about eating. Just a few tips: (1) use good breadcrumbs, because the flavor of the whole wheat bread I used absolutely came through and without question contributed to what I loved so much about the flavors; (2) don't be shy with the yogurt coating, because I had a lot left over; (3) if you're looking for super crispy, consider skipping the butter added to the top. I think that kind of inhibited the full effect of crispiness that I was hoping for.

So, in my search for My Chicken Finger Recipe, I also lucked out and found a very satisfying, flavorful baked chicken recipe - and now you've lucked out, because I'm going to share them both with you! They're both fairly versatile recipes; I can see them topping a salad, as a stand-alone on a plate with some veggies, skewered with a dip of some kind...just maybe not with pasta, unless we're carbing up for a marathon, which I certainly have no plans of doing in the near future.

Baked-n-Breaded Herb Chicken
Yield: 1 serving
(printable recipe)

The Ingredients
4-5 ounces chicken, sliced or pounded thin
1-2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2-3 tablespoons egg whites
1-2 tablespoons fine-ground, whole grain bread crumbs*
1 tablespoon dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder (total, not each)
1/2 - 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
black pepper, generously, to taste

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking dish. Set three small, shallow bowls on the counter; fill one with the flour, the next with the egg whites, and the final with bread crumbs and spices. Stir the bread crumb mixture to evenly incorporate all ingredients.

Work in an assembly-line fashion to dredge each piece of chicken first in the flour, then the egg whites, and then the bread crumbs. Arrange the breaded chicken in the baking dish, and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, flipping them halfway through.** Serve with anything you choose, though I was partial to a little drizzling of lemon juice myself (and the 4 year old in me would have been ecstatic with a mountain of ketchup, so pick your poison).

Crispy Yogurt Chicken Fingers, adapted from Annie's Eats
Yield: 6 servings
(printable recipe)

The Ingredients
2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs*
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, sliced into "finger"-sized strips
2 cups plain nonfat greek yogurt
1/2-1 tablespoon minced garlic
dried oregano, to taste
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 teaspoon butter, divided

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease a baking dish. Toast the bread crumbs in a skillet over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5-8 minutes.*** Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, mix the yogurt, garlic, oregano, and lemon juice together in a small, shallow dish. Add the bread crumbs to a separate, shallow dish (like a pie plate). Using tongs (or your fingers), coat each piece of chicken first in the yogurt, then in the bread crumbs. Repeat until all of the chicken has been breaded and is sitting in the baking dish. Top each chicken strip with a roughly equal amount of butter. Cover the baking dish with foil and place in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, removing the foil after 10-20. Sit back and enjoy the unbelievable aromas that will start to waft out of your oven.

*For the first recipe, I used store-bought rice crumbs, which are super-fine and soft. The second recipe originally called for panko, the exact opposite, but I just used regular, homemade whole wheat crumbs.
**Your baking time may vary depending on the size of the chicken; I was using tenders, so that would be much shorter than, say, a full breast.
***Yes, I burnt mine. Try to avoid this. I thought it was perfectly fine in the end, but still. Keep an eye on those suckers.

Serve with any number of things - I chose Turnip Fries, which could not have been easier. Because this post is already ginormous and full of 2 recipes, I'll just send you to the printable recipe to check out how I made them. Just know that when I made them, I measured nothing and brilliantly thought they would cook at the same temperature as the chicken (turns out that's a big, fat, False). But I still loved them.

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