Spiced Crispy Chicken Fingers and Old Bay Ranch

Spiced Crispy Chicken Fingers and Old Bay Ranch

Now that I'm a person who pays money for frozen pre-formed breaded chicken pieces, and who has eaten said chicken right alongside my toddler of a Wednesday night, I sometimes wonder a) how did I get here and what even is life? and b) am I allowed to make glorified convenience food too or do I just... leave that to the pros?

Now that I'm also a person who pays money for breaded chicken shapes that are hot and crisp and ready for me and my beloveds to eat (OK JK I've always been that person), I have also had the exhilarating opportunity to taste many accompanying condiments, or what are known in the vernacular as dippin' sauces.

Most are forgettable, replaceable. BUT SOME. Some are a revelation and become the only thing you ever want to eat with chicken (or anything else... fries, grilled cheese, actual vegetables) ever again. 

It was after one such drive-through epiphany that I caught a hankering to make a homemade version of both: a decent crispy chicken strip, spiced but not necessarily spicy, that even the smallest person in this house would happily devour and that I could make on a weeknight in the same amount of time as it took to get to and from the local fast-casual, quasi-artisan chicken spot; and a creamy, thick ranch, just this side of funky with fresh garlic and spices so all-over-the-board they scream secret sauce and keep us all coming back for more. Bonus if the proportions are so simple and un-mathy that I can make it with almost no measuring tools after making it on spec once or twice. Because isn't that the dream and the goal for pretty much anything we cook?

So that's how this is written. With proportions and measurements that are easy to keep straight the first time you make it, and easy to memorize for every time after that. And with a dead-simple trick to cook the chicken more evenly, more quickly, and more crisply. (Spoiler: crinkle the foil.) And with matching spices in the breading and the ranch, including Old Bay seasoning, that spice blend usually relegated to seafood, sashaying its celery-salted way onto a neutral canvas to make something your family or book club or neighbors or anyone else lucky enough to try this asking for the recipe. You can send them here, or you can claim it's a secret sauce, I won't mind.

I hope it takes you through many a Wednesday (and Tuesday, and Saturday) night.

Notes:

  • You can make the dressing up to 3 days in advance, but it comes together incredibly quickly while the chicken bakes. Up to you!
  • For serious kitchen-hacking cred, you can make the chicken ahead of time and freeze it to use as needed. Bake the chicken strips as directed, then let cool completely. Once cooled, put the tray directly in the freezer to freeze the strips individually (this way they won't stick to each other and will stay crispier when you reheat them), then pile into a freezer bag and use as needed. You can microwave them for 2ish minutes, flipping halfway in between, or reheat in the oven at 425F for 15 minutes or so. 
  • If you're not particularly into Old Bay seasoning, it's easy to omit and make this into more of a smoky paprika-cracked pepper ranch. Equally delicious, equally addictive.
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Spiced Crispy Chicken Fingers with Old Bay Ranch

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the chicken fingers:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (I used Italian-seasoned for this, but plain or Panko are fine too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied (you can do this or your butcher can)

For the ranch:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 medium clove of garlic, grated on a microplane or minced into a paste
  • A few shakes hot sauce to taste (I like Tabasco or Crystal for this, but you can use whatever you like)
  • Salt to taste

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare two sheet pans with crinkled aluminum foil: take a sheet of foil about 50% longer than the pan, lightly crinkle it into a ball, then pull it back apart somewhat and lay it across the pan.

In a wide, shallow bowl, combine the egg with the buttermilk and set aside. In a second wide, shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, spices, and salt and pepper and set aside.

Lay the chicken flat on a cutting board and cut into strips about 1 inch wide. (These do not need to be exact or symmetrical.) Then one at a time, coat each chicken strip in the buttermilk-egg mixture, followed by the breadcrumb mixture, and place the dredged chicken on the foil. Continue until all of the chicken is dredged, then bake chicken strips for 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165F. Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes, then place on a platter.

While the chicken cooks, make the dressing. Place all of the dressing ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine. Serve in a bowl alongside the chicken for dipping and keep any extra in the fridge for up to 1 week.

 




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