It’s astounding how easy homemade chicken fingers are, and how much better they are than frozen chicken nuggets. Nigella has a recipe for ‘Ritzy Chicken’ that calls for crushed Ritz crackers to be used as a coating for chunks of chicken which are then shallow-fried in oil. I want them. Instead I used Panko (very crispy Japanese breadcrumbs) and a Ziploc bag of chicken strips I had frozen in buttermilk, which I took out and thawed in a bowl of warm water to pre-feed W before Mike and I went out for his birthday dinner. Being on an actual Saturday, we had to play the birthday card to secure a babysitter (Mom) and go out.
Marinating chicken in buttermilk tenderizes it, and the buttermilk can act as a vehicle for all sorts of spices if you want to go that route. Otherwise, pull it directly out of the buttermilk and dredge in crumbs, or beat an egg to dip plain chicken in before coating it. You don’t really need Panko either – crushed crackers or breadcrumbs work fine. I like to mix them with grated Parmesan or pecans.
So that was a sort of late lunch pre-dinner for W. As for us, as usual I planned this all far too late and every restaurant I called was booked up unless we wanted to eat before 5 or after 9. Many hosts/esses sounded irritated that I would bother them with a call on a Saturday afternoon in regards to the very same evening. I figured considering our current economic climate people might not be eating out as much. Wrong.
Then I remembered Antolini’s, a wee Italian place in the old Arden Diner run by a family from Toronto who moved to Calgary a couple years ago when their three sons wanted a change. Despite the fact that it’s rated one of the top in Calgary, as well as one of the most inexpensive (on UrbanSpoon), despite the fact that the family has run their restaurant (in Toronto before here) for almost 30 years, all their pastas are handmade, as is the ricotta and bocconcini and tiramisu, we were the only ones in the place save for one other couple who came in halfway through our dinner. The father served us and was welcoming, sincere, attentive, friendly, generous. They brought a plate of homemade tomato bruschetta while we perused the menu. The salads arrived in about 5 minutes (one of the best Caesars I’ve had), and the pastas (mine was something or other stuffed with spinach and fresh ricotta, Mike always has to have the carbonara if it’s available – this was fettucine) arrived about 5 minutes after the salad plates were whisked away. Everytime he placed plates of food before us, he’d quietly say “it’s delicious“, as if to subtly plant the idea in our minds before we started eating. It always was. I wish I could give them a few decor tips and suggest that they serve fresh butter with their bread basket rather than little plastic packets of Becel, but the food was fantastic. It made me sad that while down the street people were clamouring to spend their money at JaroBlue or Farm or Eight, this lovely family patiently waited for someone to come in to what seemed like an extension of their home.
(We did walk down the street and take a peek into Farm after – it’s the new charcuterie owned by Janice Beaton down by Cafe Beano, where you can order cheese and meat samplers served on wooden slabs with fresh bread and condiments – but that’s another story.) Dessert was a little box of treats from Brûlée Patisserie in lieu of a cake, which we ate on the couches at Eau Claire market before our movie (Burn After Reading – OK.)
Chicken Strips with Honey Mustard
If you prefer, these can be cooked in a hot skillet with a little oil instead of baking them in the oven.
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into strips (about 1 lb.)
1/2 cup buttermilk or 1 large egg
1 – 2 cups Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), corn flake crumbs, dry breadcrumbs or finely crushed crackers
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Honey & mustard, for dipping
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Break the egg into a shallow dish and beat it a little with a fork. If you are using buttermilk, pour it over the chicken and refrigerate for an hour. Combine crumbs, any additions you like, and salt and pepper in another shallow dish.
Dip chicken strips into egg (or remove from buttermilk) and roll in crumbs to coat well. Place about an inch apart on a greased baking sheet. If you want, lightly spray the strips with cooking spray.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Mix equal amounts of honey and mustard for dipping.
Per serving: 264 calories, 5.1 g total fat (2.1 g saturated fat, 1.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.6 g polyunsaturated fat), 31.2 g protein, 20.9 g carbohydrate, 124.6 mg cholesterol, 0.6 g fiber. 18% calories from fat.
Curried Almond Chicken Fingers: coat chicken strips in a mixture of 1 1/2 cups crumbs, 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, and 1 tsp. curry powder.
Pecan Crusted Chicken Fingers: coat chicken strips in a mixture of 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans, 1/2 cup corn flake or Panko crumbs, 2 tbsp. flour, salt & pepper.
Spicy Chicken Fingers: add 1 tsp. chili powder to the crumb mixture, and a few drops of Tabasco sauce to the buttermilk.
Crunchy Buffalo Chicken Fingers: dip chicken strips in low fat creamy ranch dressing spiked with a teaspoon of bottled hot pepper sauce, then roll in crumbs to coat.
Crispy Sesame Chicken Fingers: roll chicken strips in a mixture of half crumbs, half sesame seeds. Serve with sweet & sour or sweet garlic dipping sauce.