Chicken fingers (or chicken tenders, as the fancy people call them), are a staple on most kid's menus. I'm talking about the menus at home, and at restaurants. Most people however, are cutting unnecessary corners and turning what could be a whole, healthy and simple meal into more junk food. My version of gluten-free chicken fingers that use a simple cashew coating is clean, simple and good for you, and yet still feels a bit like a treat.
When I looked up a leading brand of frozen chicken fingers, this was the ingredient list:
Chicken, Water, Salt. In A Breading Of: Toasted Wheat Crumbs, Water, Corn Flour, Wheat Flour, Corn Starch, Sugar, Palm Oil Shortening, Baking Powder, Salt, Spices. Browned In Canola Oil.
And so I went back to our friends Google to see what a typical recipe looks like. Most breaded chicken will include either generic breadcrumbs or something called Panko.
Panko is a type of breadcrumb commonly used in deep fried Asian cuisine. Some websites have stated that it's basically breadcrumbs made without bread crusts. The ingredients I found are listed as follows: Rice Flour, Xanthan Gum, Salt, Leavening (sodium bicarbonate, gluconolactone), Canola Oil, Sugar, Yeast, Ascorbic Acid.
Sugar, sugar, sugar. Always sugar!
To make a long story short. If you are going to be breading chicken, there's very little difference in terms of your time between ready-made breadcrumbs and creating your own coating yourself. That is where the cashews come in. Cashews are my coating of choice for these chicken tenders.
Culinary Nutrition Tip: Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs
Organic nuts are an investment, no doubt! If you want to stretch your breading a little, add some ground crackers to the breading mix. We make a point of saving the last bits and crumbs from crackers and grinding them down in the coffee grinder. I have a jar in the fridge that I just add to and that becomes a simple, ready to go breadcrumb option.
You can also do the same with the ends of gluten-free bread. Toast it up until well dried out and then grind down.
In the case of this recipe, I would recommend using half breadcrumbs as outlined above and half cashew mix as outlined in the recipe. Depending on the bread/crackers you're using, you may need to play with the ratios a little to get the right taste.
Yield: six servings
- 2lbs of chicken (Roughly 6 boneless/skinless chicken thighs or medium chicken breasts)
- 2 cups cashews
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2-3 eggs
- ⅓ cup dijon mustard
- Pre-heat oven to 350
- Cut chicken into desired size pieces (I like nugget style, others prefer strips - the smaller the pieces, the more of the cashew crust you'll need)
- In a food processor, combine together cashews, oregano, paprika, and sea salt.
- In a small bowl, whisk eggs.
- Set up your tender making stations - with the egg mix, a small bowl of mustard with a basting brush, and a plate or shallow bowl for the cashew crust.
- With each strip of chicken, dip into the egg mixture, paint on dijon mustard, dip into cashew mix and lay on parchment lined cookie sheet. Repeat until all chicken has been coated.
- Bake for 20 minutes, cutting in to ensure chicken is baked through.
Egg-free Option: I made mine without eggs and instead used 1 Tbsp of ground chia mixed with ¾ cup water. Egg is best but if there's an allergy, this worked well.
Serve these with:
And of course-- Crispy Sweet Potato Fries
Many thanks to my dear friend Livy for inspiring this recipe. As the mom of twin 4 year-olds, she knows what it means to have a family-friendly recipe that's easy and always a winner!