Up until last October (when I started “dieting”), you could say I liked my chicken strips. And that’s putting it mildly. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was a very picky eater before and not especially adventurous. I loved bland food. Most of the time, to me, going out to eat meant ordering chicken strips. They’re one thing I’ve always loved and are pretty universally similar and bland—no surprises, no matter where you get them.
Unfortunately, chicken strips are fried in copious amounts of oil, usually drenched in thick batter, and sometimes coated with breading. Add that on top of the fact that they’re generally served with fries and you don’t exactly have the most nutrient-dense meal. This version is baked and has a low-calorie, spicy, fiber-fortified breading. Because of the buttermilk marinade, the chicken is so tender and juicy and has a ton of flavor. It’s a healthy way to enjoy chicken strips, which is pretty much the best thing ever for me. For the record, even though they were once my favorite food, I haven’t ordered chicken strips in a restaurant since October 2009. Go me!
This recipe was actually inspired by a Hungry Girl recipe. Let me preface this by saying I don’t necessarily advocate Hungry Girl’s outlook on food—lots of fake foods, artificial sweeteners, high-priced “junk” food masquerading as “healthy” because of chemically added nutrients and reduced calories, etc.—but I relied almost exclusively on Hungry Girl recipes to lose my first 15 to 20 pounds. After that, I had a bit of a “food awakening” and started focusing on trying to eat whole, natural foods as much as possible and not sacrifice quality, fresh, unaltered food for the sake of a few calories. The main takeaway I got from my HG experience was easy swaps I can make to healthify recipes easily. So I’m not knocking the system at all—it certainly worked for me when I was just trying to get a jumpstart on my weight loss, but I wouldn’t advocate it as a longterm lifestyle. However, I did learn some valuable lessons from HG recipes, and these chicken strips are a great example of that. I just had to add my own spin, of course!
Your cast of characters. The HG recipe that inspired this one used a coating of panko and Fiber One, but now that I know that Fiber One has lots of not-so-wonderful things in it, I used an organic bran cereal. This stuff was actually almost a dollar cheaper than Fiber One and I thought it was way better. It doesn’t have that chalky, fake sweetness about it, which works way better than trying to force sweet Fiber One into a savory recipe. It was super crunchy and worked extremely well in the recipe. Use any crunchy bran cereal with fiber up the wazoo—you’ll notice on the box that this stuff has 13g of fiber per serving (2/3 cup) and it’s also only 90 calories per serving. Find similar stats on any bran cereal and you’re good to go.
Also please pretend that the cayenne pepper is actually chili powder. I swapped it out after I started the recipe. Also pretend that you see crushed red pepper flakes.
Make your buttermilk marinade. Your chicken has to sit in it for an hour (at least) before baking. This will make it super moist and tender, and give it an extra bit of flavor not supplied by the breading.
You can do this in a zip-top bag or in a sealable container like I did. Just make sure the chicken is evenly coated with the buttermilk mixture. Stash it in the fridge for at least an hour (you can even do this overnight for extra flavor and texture) and make your breading.
Now, while the chicken marinates, grind up your cereal for your coating. You can use a food processor, a blender, or put it in a plastic bag and smash it with a rolling pin. Just mash it up until it’s a breadcrumb-like texture (I actually think it’s better in slightly larger crumbs, it makes the crust crunchier).
Your breading is composed of your cereal crumbs, panko, onion powder, garlic powder, garlic salt, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. You can add as much of the chili powder and red pepper flakes as you like if you want it super spicy. Mix this all together.
Now, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and start dredging your tenderloins.
Dump out your breading onto a dish and slap each tenderloin down, then flip. Press it down a little on each side to get a good coating. Then, place the tenders on a wire rack on a baking sheet. The wire rack ensures that heat will circulate all around the chicken so you’ll get a super crispy crunch.
When they’re all coated and ready to go, quickly spray them with a light misting of nonstick cooking spray (this also helps with the crunch factor) and pop ‘em in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, flip the strips over using tongs and bake for another 10 minutes or until cooked through and crispy!
Serve with dipping sauce and veggies for ultra deliciousness. I made a quick honey mustard using about a tablespoon of spicy brown mustard and a teaspoon of agave nectar. BBQ sauce, ketchup, ranch, or your other favorite dipping sauce would be great too—just make sure the sauce doesn’t negate the healthiness of the chicken! These chicken strips are fantastic. Crunchy coating, tender, flavorful chicken, and just the right amount of spice for me. If you like super spicy stuff, you can definitely add as much as you want. You could also add a dash of hot sauce to your marinade to really kick it up. If you have a weakness for chicken strips, this is a great substitute for the oily, unhealthy, fried kind. Love this stuff!
Spicy Chicken Strips
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/8 tsp. paprika
12 – 16 oz. boneless, skinless, lean chicken tenderloins (8-10 pieces)
1/3 cup high-fiber bran cereal (such as Smart Bran)
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
In a zip-top bag or sealable container, combine paprika with buttermilk and mix well. Add chicken and coat completely, then seal and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a blender or food processor, grind bran cereal into a breadcrumb consistency. Mix bran cereal with panko and spices.
One by one, remove chicken tenderloins from marinade and coat it evenly with the breading mixture. Lay tenderloins on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Mist with nonstick cooking spray, then bake for 10 minutes. Flip tenders with tongs and bake for another 10 minutes or until cooked through.