Weeknight cooking: Crusted chicken strips

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
For many people, chicken is the go-to food for weeknight cooking, whether it’s in a stir-fry or a soup or part of a salad. I’m always on the lookout for something new and tasty involving chicken.
Last week, we ran a recipe for an almond-crusted chicken that got me thinking about the concept of crusted or coated chicken. It’s really easier than you might think, and if you go the baked-rather-than-fried route, crusted chicken can be a pretty nutritious option.
Since I was looking for quick after-work recipes, I decided to use chicken strips (4-5 per breast half) to shorten cooking time and to maximize the amount of crust, since the total surface area with chicken strips is going to be greater than with a breast.
Yes, there is geometry in cooking.
As I began poring over recipes, I realized there are a lot of ways to get the crust to adhere, whether the crust contains nuts, panko, crushed pretzels, parmesan or coconut. Some recipes call for dredging the chicken pieces in flour, then liquid (eggs, egg whites, milk, even salad dressing or fruit juice) and then the coating. Other recipes omit the flour part. Some even eliminate the liquid part and call for dredging a naked piece of chicken in coating mix. Experiment and see what works for you.
Coconut-crusted chicken is a great recipe to start with. For a while, coconut shrimp seemed to be all the rage in restaurants. That trend has perhaps run its course, but the coconut crusting concept is worth keeping. I wish I’d found this recipe when my kids were little because I think they would have loved it, especially the eating-with-fingers aspect of it.
The toasting of the panko and coconut is key to the flavor in this recipe, so don’t skip that part. Also, a tablespoon of salt may sound like a lot, but this coating might taste somewhat bland without it. I think you could easily replace the coconut milk in this recipe with some other type of liquid, including milk, almond milk or even egg.
Coconut Chicken Strips
Serves 2-4.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips (about 8-10 total)
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
3/4 C. panko bread crumbs
3/4 C. shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened (although many recipes call for sweetened, I thought the unsweetened version worked well)
1/3 can light coconut milk
1/2 C. flour
1 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the bread crumbs and cook until golden. Transfer to a shallow dish.
In the same skillet, add coconut and brown slightly. Don’t let it burn or get too brown because if you do the coconut could burn when you bake your chicken. Toss coconut with panko in the shallow dish.
Pour coconut milk into a second shallow dish. In a third dish, combine 1/2 cup flour with salt and pepper.
Dredge chicken strips in flour, then dip in coconut milk, then dip into the coconut/panko mixture to coat. Place on greased baking sheet or a silicone baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce.
• • •
My husband is a great cook and has made chicken cutlets that feature mustard, lemon and panko. The combination of mustard and lemon may sound too pungent for the faint of heart, but I love the zesty explosion of flavor.
Since I was pretty sure he wouldn’t remember how he made this particular dish since he tends to play things by ear, like I do, I found a recipe from “Consumer Reports Food & Fitness” and tweaked it, pumping it up with even more mustard and lemon.
This chicken is good with an apricot-mustard dipping sauce.
Lemon and Dijon Chicken with Panko Crust
Serves 2-4.
1/4 C. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 C. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips
1-11/2 C. panko breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat)
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves (I omitted this because I’m not a big thyme fan)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk mustard, garlic, lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper in large bowl. Add chicken; turn to coat. Set aside. (You can do this well ahead of baking time and let the chicken marinate, if you want).
Mix breadcrumbs, lemon peel, remaining salt and cayenne pepper in a shallow bowl. Coat chicken in breadcrumb mixture. Place chicken pieces on well-oiled baking sheet or silicone baking mat or on a wire rack on a baking sheet. Spritz lightly with olive oil spray. (I omitted this step.)
Bake chicken strips about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve with a dipping sauce if desired.
Serves 2-4.
• • •
Pecan-Oat Crusted Chicken
I like the idea of using healthy oats for a crust, and pecans and oats pair together nicely. Oats and pecans, however, can be pretty bland unless you spice them up. I added some hot spices.
Serves 2-4.
3/4 C. oats
3/4 C. pecans
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. hot spice mix (I used Lawry’s Fire-Roasted Chile & Garlic Blend)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the oats and pecans into a coarse meal. Put the mixture in a bowl and add seasonings.
Spray each chicken tender with olive oil or Pam — or dip into milk or egg — then roll into the oat-pecan mixture.
Place on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat and cook for about 15 minutes.
Serve with a dipping sauce if desired.
• • •
Roasted pumpkin seeds aren’t something most people cook with, but they make a flavorful crust for chicken. In the following recipe, based on one from www.drgourmet.com, you’re using just the kernel, which is kind of a grayish-green color and available roasted or unroasted.
This is a quirky mixture of spices — I’m not sure I’ve ever seen cumin and nutmeg in the same recipe. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I liked the interesting melange of flavors.
If you want to pump up the nuttiness, you can omit the panko and just go with the pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin Seed Crusted Chicken
Serves 2-4
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. milk (or more)
3/4 C. roasted pumpkin seeds
3/4 C. panko breadcrumbs
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips
Place the cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne pepper together in a food processor with the pumpkin seeds.
Process until pumpkin seeds are the texture of coarse corn meal. Place in a small mixing bowl and add panko.
Place the milk in a second bowl. Dredge the chicken strips in the milk and then the pumpkin seed/panko coating. Place strips on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat and bake for 15 minutes or until done.
• • •
Chicken strips beg for dipping sauces. If you’re really in a hurry, your favorite salad dressing will probably work.
My favorite dipping sauce is a mixture of apricot preserves and Dijon mustard.
If you want some real heat, mix the preserves with chili sauce, but be sure to use less, because it’s pretty hot. Experiment until you get the right amount of heat.
Apricot-Mustard Dipping Sauce
1 C. apricot jam or preserves
1/3 C. Dijon mustard
Optional: Add 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves