What is a Chicken Tender?
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, especially 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.
Where to buy chicken tenders
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.
Making Baked Chicken Tenders From Scratch
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.
How to Make the Tomato Dipping Sauce
Sure, you could use store-bought marinara sauce for dipping, but it's so easy and quick to make your own — and it tastes better! Just sauté some chopped onions and garlic, and add tomato paste and canned tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes. Purée it all in a blender, and it's ready to serve.
The sauce can also be made ahead and kept in the fridge for up to a week. If you have any leftover sauce, it's great for serving with pasta or layering into a casserole.
Ways to Adapt This Recipe
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.
More Easy Chicken Dinners
- Skillet Chicken with Cheesy Orzo and Zucchini
- Cheesy Bruschetta Chicken Cutlets
- Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas
- Chicken Scampi with Angel Hair Pasta
- Sheet Pan Chicken with Roasted Broccoli and Potatoes
Herbed Chicken Tenders with Tomato Sauce
- For the chicken tenders:
- 2 pounds chicken tenders (about 12 pieces)
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (See Recipe Note)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning herbs (See Recipe Note)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- For the tomato dipping sauce:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 1 chopped garlic clove
- 1 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
Soak tenders in buttermilk for 15 to 30 minutes
While the tenders are soaking, make the tomato dipping sauce.
Make the tomato dipping sauce
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.
Add the tomato paste, mix well and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. The tomato paste should darken to a brick-red color.
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.
Blend the dipping sauce
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.
Heat oven to 500°F. Line a sheet pan with foil and set an oven-safe metal cooking rack inside
Baking the tenders on this rack will help get them crispy on all sides.
Coat the tenders with breadcrumbs
Mix together the breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, and salt in a shallow bowl. 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 wire rack set inside the sheet pan, spaced slightly apart.
Bake the tenders
Drizzle a little melted butter over each chicken tender. Place the pan 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