Herbed Chicken Tenders with Tomato Sauce

I wonder who came up with the name “chicken tenders”? Hmm, perhaps it sounds more appealing than “the piece of meat we strip off the breast when we make cutlets”. In any case, chicken tenders can be useful to have around, stored in the freezer for when you want a quick meal. As the name implies, they are tender, having been cut from chicken breasts, and a little soaking in buttermilk helps tenderize them even further.

There are so many ways one could play with this recipe. What we present here are simple, basic, breaded and baked chicken tenders, with a classic Italian tomato sauce for dipping. (These little guys make great finger food.) I make my breadcrumbs from scratch, because we often have leftover hard ends of French or Italian loaf bread hanging around, which are so easy to chop up and pulse in the blender. I’m using Italian seasoning with the breadcrumbs, you could just as well pick one herb, like thyme, and go with that. Or add some grated Parmesan. For a lemony flavor you could soak the chicken in a little lemon juice instead of buttermilk.

Chicken tenders are sold packaged as such, or you can make your own by saving and freezing them when you prepare chicken cutlets.

chicken-tender-1.jpgchicken-tender-2.jpg

Just find that little strip on the side of the chicken breast half and cut it or pull it off.

Herbed Chicken Tenders with Tomato Sauce Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

Ingredients

Chicken Tenders

  • 2 lbs chicken tenders (about 12 pieces)
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning herbs**
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted

Tomato Dipping Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

*You can make a substitute for buttermilk by adding a tablespoon and a half of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 1/2 cups of milk and letting the mixture stand for 10 minutes.

**A mixture of dried herbs often used in Italian cooking such as marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil

Method

Sauce

1 Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, stirring often, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute.

2 Add the tomato paste, mix well and cook for 1-2 minutes more. The tomato paste should darken to a brick-red color.

3 Add the tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook this for 5 minutes if using tomato sauce, 10 minutes if using crushed tomatoes.

4 Put the sauce into a blender and purée until smooth. Hold your hand over the blender lid to keep it from popping off, and start the blender at a low setting and work up to the highest.

The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to a week.


The Tenders

1 Soak tenders in buttermilk for 15-30 minutes. While the tenders are soaking, make the sauce (see sauce directions above).

2 Mix together the breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, and salt in a shallow bowl.

3 Heat oven to 500°F. Line a roasting pan with foil. Brush the top of the foil with vegetable oil to help prevent sticking, or use a Silpat sheet. One by one, remove the chicken tenders from the buttermilk and place in the bowl with breadcrumbs, coating them on all sides with the breadcrumbs. Place on the roasting pan.

4 Drizzle a little melted butter over each chicken tender. Place in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, and the pieces are lightly browned.

Serve with a bowl of the sauce for dipping.

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24 Comments

  1. katie c

    I always figured they were called chicken tenders because they are the tenderloin part of the chicken. It’s the part of the chicken that is analogous to the pork tenderloin, a small muscle that doesn’t do much, easily pulls away and isn’t weight bearing so it remains tender. Plus, I agree it’s a good marketing gimmick!

  2. Lee

    Scary how close these are to the chicken nuggets I make for the girls! I usually use a mix of breadcrumbs and cheese crackers (hey, they’re 6 and 2!) with Parmesan cheese. Now if I could only steer them away from honey mustard and onto the tomato sauce…

  3. Dio

    I’m going to try this one as well!

    As for the name, I always viewed this piece as the poultry equivalent to pork or beef tenderloin, so assumed it derived from that association.

  4. Megan

    These look great! So if you were going to prepare them and freeze for a later meal, when would you do that? After breading, after baking? Or maybe you just meant to have the tenders themselves (the raw chicken pieces) available in the freezer to make these?

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I meant a bag of raw tenders in the freezer. They defrost quickly. ~Elise

  5. Laura @ SweetSavoryPlanet

    I love that these are oven baked and that you use buttermilk. Nice and easy.

  6. DSX

    Our family loves these kind of tenders, they’re perfect weekend finger food during sports or a movie night loafing around the TV room with friends.

    We use a different dip though, a tangy sweet mustard sauce my father creates: 1 cup of miracle whip dressing (real mayo is too rich) 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup table mustard, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice, all blended smooth and chilled.

  7. Chef Allison

    It’s called the tender because it is the section of the breast that is comparable to the Loin or the Fillet Muscle on other animals. It gets very little exercise or movement by the chicken so that is why it is “tender”.
    However that is why it is also the most flavorless piece on a chicken- true chicken flavor comes from a free range chicken who truely gets exercise and motion, but still that muscle will be the most tender because of it’s location on the body.

  8. Mshenay

    Yea I love the Italian herb crust! Great idea about mixing it with the Tomato sauce! On a personal note, I like using the lemon :3 it adds a little sour kick to them, very tasty imo!

  9. Kathy - Panini Happy

    I’ve got chicken tenders in my regular dinner rotation – everyone in my house (with teeth) loves them. Last time I breaded them with seasoned panko, I highly recommend it!

  10. JJK

    Can you prepare the breaded chicken tenders the night before and keep them in the refrigerator for one night? If you could do that, would it be better to do with the buttermilk or the milk/lemon juice marinade? Thanks!

    I don’t recommend doing it that way. You want the breading to be as dry as possible so it browns well. ~Elise

  11. Lucy

    Great recipe! I have fat free milk on hand – would that still work to substitute for buttermilk?

    Should work as long as you add vinegar or lemon juice. ~Elise

  12. Allie

    Looks excellent! Normally I use egg to coat the tenders, never tried buttermilk. I always end up with crumbs that dont perfectly stick (not like your picture!) Do you think its the buttermilk or is there any difference between using already flavored Italian breadcrumbs versus adding the seasoning to the breadcrumbs?

    Great question on the breadcrumbs. Honestly I only make my own. I’m guessing that the pre-seasoned breadcrumbs have more salt in them. You’d have to do a taste test. ~Elise

  13. Elizabeth Robertson

    Great recipe…I do similar with regular chicken breasts by cutting them into strips….yogurt is good to use also a good mayo if you have on buttermilk…

  14. Jackie

    Once again, great minds think alike! I made breaded tenderloins on Sunday the 12th for a putluck dinner, with an egg-wash instead of buttermilk. Also seasoned my own breadcrumbs. Instead of a tomato sauce, I served mine with a homemade honey mustard sauce.

  15. Maryn

    This was great! Easy to make and delicious! My husband was raving that they were the best chicken tenders he’s ever had. The tomato sauce was just right – it didn’t have that canned tomato taste that some sauces end up having. Thanks!

  16. Brit

    I made these tonight, and had to cook them a lot longer, almost 28 minutes before the were a bit crispy. I did use gluten free bread crumbs, so I’m not sure if that made the difference, but they were fantastic!

  17. connie

    Made these last night. Absolutely LOVED the chicken tenders!! The sauce was OK. Probably not something I would make again. I’ll try regular Marinara as someone else suggested, which I always have on hand. May even try some honey mustard.

  18. David

    Just made this, using herbes de provence as the breadcrumb seasoning. Instead of the dipping sauce I blended light mayo, tomato paste, garlic, and some sriracha, and used that as spread on a sandwich topped with a leaf of romaine and the chicken. Came out absolutely great.

  19. Christie

    I made this recipe last night and my husband raved over the chicken tenders. I love oven frying chicken instead of frying it in a pan with oil. I will definitely add this recipe to my meal rotation. Thanks so much!

  20. Mira Jones

    I made this for my family and the children loved the fancy look and feel this meal had. Thanks for the recipe! Delicious

  21. Claire

    We had some leftover chicken tenders from stir-fry and very little time to cook, so I decided to try this recipe out. It was super easy and tasted great, even though I was inattentive and slightly burned the bottoms of the tenders. We didn’t make the sauce, but I’ll try that next time!

  22. Jack Larkin

    I just made these. I thought they were tasty, and they were well received too!

  23. pat

    I tried this recipe. The coating was soggy and sticky, not crispy at all. Flavor was good, but I was hoping for a crispy coating.

    • Elise

      A lot of it depends on the type of breadcrumbs you are using. I recommend panko for the crispiest outcome, or homemade breadcrumbs that are more coarse than store bought.

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