Ever since my husband went gluten-free three years ago, I have been experimenting to develop a good chicken tender recipe. He is a chicken tender connoisseur (if there is such a thing), so developing a tender that was both flavorful and crispy was my goal. We both knew that it wasn’t going to be as good as an old-fashioned deep fried buttermilk chicken tender, but I was going to try my best!
I learned early on that the multi-step coating process is a must if you want the coating to stick to the chicken. For some reason, the gluten free flour has a tendency to slide off the chicken easily, so that by the time you get it from the pan to the plate half the coating remained in the pan. Parchment paper definitely helps in this aspect; I use Reynolds Sheets because they are easier to use than the rolls. Don’t skimp and not buy the parchment paper, because it will change your life in the kitchen. I use it all the time (cookies, vegetables, potatoes) and not only does it make cleanup easier, it creates a non-stick surface that lends itself to a crispier texture. Life is short. Buy the parchment.
The type of flour you use also matters. Brown rice flour produces the crispiest texture, but it also falls apart easily. An all-purpose gluten-free blend like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to1 Baking Flour is my favorite. But alone, it didn’t quite get as crispy as I was looking for. One evening while my husband was having a bowl of cereal, crunching loudly and annoying the crap out of me, it dawned on me that cereal was the light-weight crunch that my chicken needed. Being gluten free by choice, any cereal, like Rice Krispies works for us. However, I know that malt is an ingredient in many rice cereals, so for some folks, especially those with Celiac’s disease, some brands simply don’t work. Be sure to get a true gluten-free rice cereal if you are 100% gluten free.
The pickle marinade is the key ingredient here – it really gives the tenders a good flavor, and helps to tenderize the meat. Cook them hot and fast, using a convection oven if you have one. A regular oven works just fine, but if you have convection, use it! The dry circulating air helps to crisp up things like roasts, chicken, and veggies.
Gluten-Free Oven Fried Chicken Tenders
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup pickle juice
2 cups sugar free crisp rice cereal
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 cup gluten-free flour blend, like Bob’s Red Mill
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
Cut each breast into 1” thick strips by about 4” long, or cut them to any desired size (nuggets work, as well!). Place the chicken pieces into a 1 gallon zip top bag and pour pickle juice on top. Seal and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator a half hour before preparing the tenders so they can come to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees (400 if using convection). While the tenders are resting, prepare the crispy coating. Place the cereal and all the seasonings into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine sand. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to process the cereal in a couple batches (I used my mini prep so I had to do it in 2 batches). Pour the crispy coating into a shallow dish. Beat the eggs and pour into a separate shallow dish, and place the gluten-free flour in a third shallow dish. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper, and brushing canola oil evenly over the surface. Finally, remove the chicken from the marinade and place it on a fourth dish. Discard the marinade immediately.
Assemble your work station in the following order: raw chicken, dish of flour, dish of egg, dish of seasoned crispy coating, parchment lined baking sheet. Completely coat each piece of chicken in flour, then dip in egg, then coat in the seasoned coating mixture. Place each piece about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Spritz the top of each tender with a little non-stick cooking spray to moisten the coating. Place the chicken in the oven and back 20-30 minutes or until the tenders are browned and crispy looking. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving with your favorite condiments (BBQ, buffalo, honey mustard, ranch, whatever you desire!)