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.


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.


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



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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Showing 4 of 29 Comments

  • 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!

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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

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