It’s almost too much to call this a Recipe. Really, it’s more of a Method. Making oven-baked crispy things isn’t quite rocket science, and there isn’t a lot of variation in the recipes.
In general, you’ll have some sort of meat (boneless or bone-in), sometimes cut to finger-food size and sometimes not. This meat will first be coated with some sort of moisture- and stickiness-creating substance, maybe egg or even mayonnaise. Then, it will be coated with some sort of crumbly stuff seasoned to taste, such as pulverized corn flakes, bread crumbs, or even a store-bought mix. Bake, serve, enjoy.
HOWEVER. Last night, after having made this a few times, all four kids seated around the table announced that these were so good, they didn’t want to eat frozen chicken nuggets ever again. Life being what it is, they probably will, but I was so delighted that I called my father to brag about it.
This will prepare about 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Very easy to double, if you want to freeze any for future consumption, but I haven’t tried that yet and don’t know how they’ll take to it.)
- one egg, beaten
- two tablespoons of butter, melted — And by this, I mean “measure two TBS of butter and then melt it,” not melt some butter and then measure two TBS of it. Sometimes, that makes a difference.
- one cup corn flake crumbs — You can use the store-bought crumbs (which we have found both in the gluten-free section and in the regular baking section), or pulverize your own corn flakes. Last night, I used about half of the store-bought (unseasoned) corn flake crumbs and about half of my own pulverized corn flakes. I intend to increase the ratio of non-store-bought flakes in future iterations.
- seasonings — I tend to purchase my crumbs unseasoned (like I buy my butter unsalted), so I can pick and choose whatever seasonings I’m in the mood for. Last night, we went with some garlic salt and white pepper, along with a bit of Fox Point seasoning from Penzey’s.
- meat — Like I said, we were cooking up chicken fingers, with each chicken breast slicing up into about four “fingers.” If you want to get fancy, you could marinate the meat ahead of time.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Assembly time is about ten minutes, depending on whether you have an eager ten-year-old helping you or not, and whether you remembered to thaw the chicken out beforehand. Prepare for yourself a cookie sheet, covered in foil, with a cookie rack resting in it (ever so lightly coated with non-stick spray…or not). Like this (with apologies for my failure to get text to wrap artfully around the picture):
I don’t care what seasonings you add, but this is a pretty important step to achieving Crispy Chicken Finger magic. Otherwise, you have to cook the fingers much longer for crispiness, and by that time the meat is overcooked and not very tasty. The aluminum foil is optional; I’m just a lazy cleaner-upper, and that step makes life easier for me.
Beat your egg in a smallish bowl. Blend the corn flake crumbs and melted butter to a consistent…er, consistency, and then add seasonings of your choice in a shallow, wide bowl (even a plate will do). I have to admit here that I have never once measured these seasonings; I just sort of add this and that to taste. When in doubt, overseason, because the corn flake crumbs can be bland-bland-bland. With your meat all sliced up, go in assembly-line fashion to dip the meat into the egg, dredge it in the flakes, and then place on the rack with a little space between each piece.
Cooking time will vary with the size you’ve cut your meat to. Our chicken fingers generally take about 25 minutes. I’ll typically use that time to steam some veggies or make a side salad for a quick school-night meal. If the crispy coating still seems a bit “wet” when you check, then give them a few more minutes. When they’re done, they’ll separate easily from the rack. (If the coating starts to look toasted, then they might have cooked a bit too long.) Yum!