My last day on Earth would involve chicken fingers. Scratch that, buffalo chicken fingers. Strips of fiery red breading with chunky blue cheese for dipping.
I eat my fair share of fine food. Just recently, I dined on beef wellington, roasted duck, ceviche, and quail. Spectacular consumption. But if I’m being honest, my ultimate meals always bring to mind crispy buffalo chicken, pizza, medium-rare cheeseburgers (preferably with a smear of mayonnaise), and steak and cheese subs with caramelized onions. More street grub than gourmet. Those would be the meals that I’d choose, like JC, at the last supper.
Lots of times I wonder why I don’t salivate quite as much at the thought of going out for a really “nice” meal. Why seared ahi tuna and wild mushroom risotto doesn’t quite do it for me in the same way that Bertucci’s “Carmine” pizza does. As a food blogger, I see those pristinely plated, cost-more-than-my-car meals almost daily. And truth be told, they’re delicious. Mouth-watering, even.
But they aren’t the ones that I get a jonesing for.
I think it started in the womb. A seed planted that a top-notch meatball parmesan is worth more than all the Kobe beef carpaccio in the world. Call my tastes pedestrian. When offered the finest, I’ll covet a donut. Opt for a paper plate over china.
My less-than-luxe taste preferences also have something to do with having counted calories for a few years. While losing weight, I gained knowledge of the numbers. Learned that Wolfgang Puck’s plates, calorically speaking, are the same as Wendy’s. Bobby Flay’s numbers equal to Burger King. Better quality and more in line with the notion of “real food,” no doubt, but the same from a “what does this cost in my belly budget” perspective.
I get that counting calories isn’t ideal for lots of people. That mentioning counting is somewhat taboo. Word association would yield “rigidity, obsessive, strict.” I’ve written more than you’d care to read on the matter. But when you’re losing weight, or, when I was losing weight- it served a purpose. Helped me get from A to B- B being not morbidly obese.
So maybe nowadays, though I don’t have that same mental calorie calculation running like a feed through my mind anymore, I still carry the notion that at the end of the day buffalo chicken tenders are the same as filet mignon in at least one sense. One of the two might be missing the trans fats and alarming ingredient list, but I love them all the same.
It helps to not demonize any dish. To think that a food is a food is a food. I don’t set anything aside as an “I’ll never…” or a “Oh I really shouldn’t…” And while I do more often than not avoid food that’s more processed than my Nana’s hair (for the most part), my point is this: buffalo chicken is divine. As divine as braised buffalo and slow roasted chicken, combined. So I guess this is an admission, really. That as a lover of eating well, a passionate food purist in many senses, my favorite foods are the ones that would be more likely served from a hot dog cart or a shake shack than a restaurant that accepts reservations.
Buffalo Chicken Fingers (serves 4)
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg beaten with 2 TBSP hot sauce
- 2/3 cup dried bread crumbs
- 2 TBSP steak seasoning (or any all-purpose blend of pepper and salt)
- 3-4 TBSP oil ( I used olive)
- 1/2-3/4 cup hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot or Texas Pete)
Preheat your oven to 400°. Begin heating 1.5 TBSP of the oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. Line up three separate bowls and fill them in this order- first with the flour, second with the egg mixture, and third with the bread crumbs combined with steak seasoning.
Begin by dredging each tenderloin first in the flour (you only need a light dusting- shake off excess), then dip into the egg bath, then dredge in the bread crumb mixture-pressing to coat the tenderloin well. Place each prepared tenderloin on a large plate.
Place half of the chicken tenderloins in the hot, oiled pan all at the same time, spacing them evenly. You don’t want to overcrowd your pan. Cook for about 4 minutes, without moving them, so that they develop a nice crispy crust on one side.
Flip and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Place the chicken on a wire rack set atop a roasting pan. Place in the oven and cook at 400 for about 5-7 minutes, just so that the chicken can cook through. The reason that I only cook the chicken a little more than halfway on the stove top is because I want a crisp crust on the chicken, but don’t necessarily want to fry them in a lot of oil. To cook them completely would require them being in the pan for a good amount of time and at a high heat, with a relatively small amount of oil, they have a tendency to burn. Searing the breading on both sides allows you to lock in the moisture of the chicken’s interior while still developing a crunchy coating. I finish them in the oven so that they cook through, yet don’t burn on the stove top. I also don’t want to solely bake them because you don’t get that authentic chicken finger taste without at least pan frying partially.
When the chicken tenders are cooked through, remove them from the oven and fill a shallow bowl with the hot sauce. Dip each tender into the hot sauce, just to quickly coat. Set the pieces back on the wire rack until you’re done coating all the chicken. Serve with blue cheese dressing and crunchy celery sticks.