When I was younger we always used to stop at…interesting restaurants on family trips. My mom would always spot the most unique sounding (or looking) places, determined that that was where we needed to eat lunch or dinner. And I have to admit, very often they had the best food. In the South it is always the most hole-in-the wall places that have the best fried chicken. But sometimes they weren’t so good, and after our meals, having exhausted the Alphabet game, we would critique what we had eaten.
I remember once we hypothesized that we should be a family of restaurant reviewers. We all tended to lean towards the same type of dishes when we went out to eat, so everyone would have their own niche to review. And mine was chicken fingers.
I’m pretty sure that I ordered chicken fingers at every. single. restaurant. we ever went to when I was growing up. Obviously now I have learned and grown up and am a bit more adventurous (although I do tend to order the same thing over and over at my favorite restaurants, because I always know it will be good). So as a child, the chicken finger plate was generally a safe food at any strange restaurants. Except for the time I received a plate of chicken fingers that literally tasted like cigarettes; I’m not even sure how it was possible, and it was disgusting. But generally, chicken fingers were a safe bet. Not really a bet at all actually.
As an adult now, I really don’t know that I could tell you the last time I had chicken fingers. Ok, I take that back, I think I made some last year at some point. But really, I can’t tell you the last time I ordered chicken fingers at a restaurant.
These are a little different though than your standard chicken finger plate fare (and, I think, a bit more sophisticated). Instead of being deep fried, these are baked. And instead of a traditional breadcrumb breading for baked chicken fingers, these are covered in saltine crackers and ground toasted pecans, which gives them a lovely nutty and salty flavor. It makes for a more grown up version of our favorite childhood dish.
And moral of the story: to parents whose children only eat chicken fingers, don’t worry. They will probably turn out fine. Or maybe they’ll even surprise you and turn out like me, cooking all kinds of things you never thought they’d eat.
Saltine and Pecan Chicken Fingers
adapted from The All-New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
16 saltine crackers
2 teaspoons paprika (optional)*
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon water
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-3 tablespoons butter
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Begin by toasting the pecans. Place them in a dry saute pan over medium heat, and cook, tossing them often, until they are slightly browned and fragrant. Remove from heat.
3. In a small food processor add the pecans, saltine crackers, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and paprika. Pulse until the mixture is finely ground and pour it into a small bowl. Set aside.
4. In another small bowl or shallow dish, add the flour along with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper (not too much though, because remember that the saltines are already salty). Then, in yet another dish, combine the egg with the water, beating until combined.
5. Cut each chicken breast into about 4 long chicken strips.
6. Dredge each chicken strip in the flour mixture until lightly coated, shaking off the excess flour. Then dip it into the egg mixture, letting the egg stick to the flour. Then roll the strip in the pecan and saltine cracker mixture until fully covered. Place the chicken strips in a glass baking dish (or on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking pan).
7. Cut the butter into small, thin pieces and place the pieces evenly over the chicken strips so that they will melt over the chicken strips as they bake.
8. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and golden brown. Serve warm.
*Optional, as in I didn’t do this.