Homemade Chicken Strips (with whole wheat breading)

Healthy Chicken Strips

 I’ve never seen an episode of The Pioneer Woman’s cooking show. I’ve been a fan of her recipes and her blogging style for years, but it didn’t even dawn on me until recently that most of her fans probably, you know, watch her show.

I’ve also probably never cooked one of her recipes exactly as it’s written. Granted, there are few recipes I have cooked exactly as written. Because really, who has exactly the same ingredients and food preferences as another cook somewhere? Still, I can see this affecting my qualifications as a true fan.

Despite these fan failings I just want to say that I pretty much stole this recipe from The Pioneer Woman (and then proceeded to tweak it for the way I cook) because she has amazing recipes. Her original version of this recipe is here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/05/quickie-homemade-chicken-strips/

Now for my changes:

I don’t buy the precut chicken strips. I buy ‘split chicken breasts’ with the bone still in, hack out the bones the best I can for the stock pot (the skin goes in with them), and cut the remaining slab of chicken into strips an inch or two wide. Any odd shaped bits are considered bonus nuggets and thrown in with the chicken strips to be fried up at the same time. (Unfortunately I don’t have video of this part of the process, but if there’s interest I can make a video next time I’m cutting up chicken breast.) I buy ahead when split chicken breasts are sale for .99 a pound, and divide the chicken strips into quart freezer bags. Each bag holds around two pounds of meat.

I almost never have buttermilk on hand. At different times I’ve used raw milk, soured raw milk, yogurt and whey to soak the chicken strips in, and they all seem to work equally well. The important part is soaking the chicken so the flour has plenty of moisture to stick to when you go to bread them. I usually just pour my chosen liquid into the freezer bag the night before when I pull the chicken strips out of the freezer, so they have a good long soaking time, but according the the original recipe, soaking them for 15 to 20 minutes before you cook them is good enough.

I use whole wheat flour instead of white. Also, because the whole wheat flour has more texture to start with, I find the touch of buttermilk in the flour to be completely unnecessary. I use soft white wheat, so the breading has little to no whole wheat flour taste. Red wheat should work just as well in the process but would have much more of a whole wheat flavor. (For those who are concerned that the whole wheat flour in this recipe doesn’t get soaked, see my comments on phytic acid here. This would be one of those cases where I think it’s better to enjoy a moderately healthy food than to obsess over making it ‘perfectly healthy’ and ruin your enjoyment of the food in the process.)

I use my own spice instead of the spice blend recommended in the original recipe, including, of course, garlic powder.

I avoid vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil and canola oil (not obsessively, but I’ll make some extra effort to keep other oils in my kitchen instead). I lean toward animal fats and coconut oils as being the healthiest oils, especially for frying, but right now my compromise oil for frying is rice bran oil. It is, at least, non-gmo, and not a food that’s over produced and hidden in most food already, so I’m not afraid of over exposing myself to rice. Sunflower seed oil, grapeseed oil and safflower oil would also fit in the compromise category.

While we’re on the subject of frying, are you poised to object when I get down the healthiness rating and declare a fried food as healthy? Once again, it’s  case of moderation and variety. Nearly everything, including water and raw spinach, is bad for you if you over consume it. Yes, I’m in favor of water and raw spinach as part of a healthy diet, possibly even in large amounts, but I think a simple variety of real, non-processed foods takes the stress out of concepts like oxalic acid, phytic acid and other real food scares.

Similarly, a diet consisting only fried food would undoubtedly be problematic, whether that’s because of lack of raw vegetable enzymes or an over consumption of fats. But that’s no reason to declare fried food unhealthy and inedible. Use healthy ingredients, use frying as one of many methods of preparing those healthy ingredients, and enjoy your food before you kill yourself by stressing about your food too much.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Chicken, milk or whey, whole wheat flour and healthy (or healthyish) fats. I’m not saying this one’s a superfood, but as noted above, I think it’s perfectly reasonable inclusion in a healthy diet.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

This one’s a winner, and possibly even a good transition recipe if you’re trying to wean your family off of processed foods. In my opinion, a lot of the real yumminess factor comes in your choice of sauces served with the chicken strips, but they make a solid base for such yumminess.

Breading Chicken Strips

Chicken Strips

about 2 lbs of strips of chicken breast

about 1 cup of sour milk, yogurt or whey (enough to cover the chicken)

about 1 1/2 cups of soft white wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp garlic powder, or to taste

optional: heavy dash of black pepper, sprinkle of cayenne

Lard, coconut oil or neutral flavored oil for frying (about 2 cups or so)

Soak chicken strips in chosen liquid overnight, or for a few hours.

Begin heating lard or oil of choice over medium heat in a frying pan. I normally make the oil about half an inch deep in the pan.

Mix flour and spices. (As long as it’s still BEFORE you dip raw meat in it, you can actually taste a pinch of the flour mixture to make sure the salt and spice ratios are to your liking. You want the spices to be a light background flavor, and the flour should tasted salted, but not too salty.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have  a really good system for knowing when the oil is hot–I normally just wait two or three minutes, make sure I feel plenty of heat coming off the oil, and start frying. If you’re new to frying and don’t have an oil thermometer, I would mix a spoonful of flour with a spoonful of water, and drop it in the oil when it starts to get warm. When this impromptu batter has bubbling oil around it and is turning golden brown. (If you do have an oil thermometer aim for 350 to 375 degrees.) Adjust the oil temperature as you go, if needed. If the breading is only very lightly browned after cooking for 2 minutes on one side, turn the burner up a notch. If it’s getting dark brown or overly crispy by a minute and a half on one side, turn the burner down a notch (or two).

When the oil is ready, dip a chicken strip in the flour mixture. (Tongs make this part less messy.) Thoroughly coat the strip with flour on both sides. Place the strip (carefully!) into the hot oil (the tongs come in handy again here), and repeat until your pan is full without being crowded.

After about a minute and a half, and when the first side is getting golden brown and crispy, turn over the chicken strips. (It helps to have a second pair of tongs for this part–one for raw chicken, one for cooking chicken. Also, one for raw messy breading, one for hot oil.)

Cook on the other side for about a minute and half, then remove the strips to a warm oven. (I like to put a couple of paper towels on a cookie sheet or plate for receiving the newly fried, and dripping with oil chicken strips.)

If you’re concerned about whether the chicken is done or not, here a few tips: The chicken will be floppy and squashy when raw, cooked chicken will be firm and hold it’s shape when pressed or picked up from one end. If you make a slit into the chicken and clear liquid comes out, it’s done–pink or bloody liquid means it’s not done yet. If you’re still in doubt, cut a couple chicken strips in half to make sure they’re done, until you get a feel for how long they take to cook on your stove. (You could also try the whole meat thermometer thing, but it never works for me.)

Serve with dipping sauces. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, honey mustard and ranch are all excellent choices.