Pub Night: Panko Crusted Buttermilk Chicken Fingers with Curried Apricot Sauce
That’s a long title for pub food, isn’t it? I mean, I really could have stopped at “Chicken Fingers and Sauce”, but I’ve always been a bit long winded. More importantly, “Chicken Fingers and Sauce” just really doesn’t say very much. That kind of a milky thin title doesn’t conjure images of crunchy panko concealing a juicy, flavorful belt of chicken under it’s golden folds. “Sauce” couldn’t possibly start to hint at a sweet and piquant summertime spread made from ripe apricots and smoky Indian spices. “Chicken Fingers and Sauce” just isn’t how I roll, people. This is East meets East….meets Pub Night.
Panko Crusted Buttermilk Chicken Fingers with Curried Apricot Sauce
Panko Crusted Buttermilk Chicken Fingers
- 6 large chicken breasts with the tender attached *
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 cups low fat buttermilk
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1.5 cups whole wheat flour **
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1.5 cups panko ***
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- salt and pepper
* ‘Tender’ refers to the inner muscle of the chicken breast, which is the tenderloin. The meat is of a slightly softer texture, and it’s somewhat more tender…go figure. It’s also just the right size and shape for a chicken finger. In Canadian grocers the chicken tender is usually left on the breast, and the plumper the breast the more likely to include the tender.
** You can substitute the whole wheat flour with all purpose flour if you prefer. Whole wheat flour does have a slight taste, although it’s barely detectable, but if that doesn’t pluck your chickens feel free to use a flavorless flour.
*** Panko is a variety of Japanese bread crumb which can be found in most Pan Asian stores, and more recently also in many suburban grocery stores. The texture of panko is appealing for use in breading, casserole crusts, gratins and even as a filler (maybe in your next batch of crab cakes?) because they’re lighter and airier when compared to their dense and heavy breadcrumb cousin. The texture of panko is a coarser grind than the fine bread crumbs that are often used for breading, and panko appears to be almost more like little flakes of bread than crumbs. Generally there are no crusts used when panko is made, which may contribute to it’s lighter texture. As for the crispiness, well, I’m a home cook and not a scientist. I just know that I likes it alots.
Curried Apricot Sauce
- 1 kg (2 1/4 lb) ripe but firm apricots
- 1 red onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp oil (sunflower or safflower preferred)
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tbsp hot Indian red chili powder *
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- salt and pepper
* If you don’t have Indian red chili powder, a chipotle powder or a hot paprika would do the trick. Chipotle powder would be slightly spicier and hot paprika is generally a bit milder. Avoid adding in a tablespoon of cayenne though, as that would certainly blow this little piggy’s house right down.
Let’s start with the chicken fingers, shall we? Coarsely mince the garlic. Slice the onion in half and then into 1/4 inch moons.
Pour the 2 cups of buttermilk into either a deep casserole dish or a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the Dijon mustard, and stir the onions and garlic in to coat. Season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
Fold each chicken breast open and carefully cut out the tender, laying it off to the side. You will notice that the chicken breast naturally parts about a third of the way in, so that’s a good place to slice through. Slice the chicken breast vertically 1-2 more times until you have 4-5 strips of chicken, all approximately the same size.
Carefully pound the chicken pieces under a flat mallet until they’re an even thickness of about 1/2 inch.
Add the pounded chicken strips to the buttermilk mixture and toss it until all of the meat is well coated. Refrigerate the container for approximately 4 hours, turning the chicken over occasionally to make sure that the marinade is evenly absorbed.
While the chicken marinates, prepare the curried apricot sauce. Start by preheating the oven to 375ºF.
Cut each apricot in half and remove the pit. Toss the apricots in 2 tbsp of oil and lay them cut side up on a baking sheet. Peel the onion and cut it in half, and then each half into quarters. Peel the cloves of garlic but leave them whole. Rub the onion wedges and garlic cloves with oil as well and intersperse them among the apricots. Sprinkle everything with the fenugreek seed, cumin seed, salt and freshly ground pepper.
Roast the apricots for approximately 30-35 minutes or until they’re blistered, slightly collapsed, and the onions are soft.
Carefully spoon the apricot mixture into a large glass blender, along with any juices which gathered in the bottom of the pan. Add all of the spices, sugar and vinegar. Puree the mixture until no visible chunks remain.
Always show extra caution when pureeing hot liquids, and be sure that the lid is tightly sealed.
Carefully spoon the thick apricot sauce into a strainer set above a pot. Swirl the sauce around, pressing against the sides of the strainer, until all of the liquid has gone through into the pot and only solids remain. Discard the solids.
Add the cup of water to the sauce and simmer it on moderately low heat for 15-20 minutes or until you’ve reached a desired consistency. As a teenager I used to love dipping my chicken fingers into BBQ sauce, so I like to thicken it up a fair bit. If you like a thinner sauce, well, that will take no time at all and who am I to stop you? Cool the curried apricot sauce in the fridge until you’re ready for some good old fashioned dipping action.
After the chicken has soaked away for 4 hours or so, you’re ready to start breading. Preheat the oven to 400º with the racks in the center. Spray 2 cooking sheets with non-stick spray and set aside for the fingers.
- Scoop the whole wheat flour into a long shallow dish and season it well with salt and pepper.
- In a second dish whisk together the eggs with 1/2 cup milk.
- Mix the panko and bread crumbs together in a third dish.
Lift out one chicken strip at a time and shake off any excess buttermilk, onion or garlic. Turn the chicken over in the flour until it is well coated and shake off the excess. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, turning until it is well coated. Shake off any excess egg and gently roll the chicken in the panko mixture so that it is completely breaded.
Lay the chicken strips onto your non-stick sprayed baking sheets as they’re done. Cook the fingers for 8 minutes before turning them over and rotating the pans. Continue to bake them for another 7-10 minutes (15 – 18 minutes in total) or until they’re fully cooked through and the breading is lightly golden brown.
Serve the panko crusted chicken fingers with a side of curried apricot sauce for dipping.
Have you ever had dry, flavorless chicken fingers from a freezer bag? Me too. I wouldn’t do that to you. Soaking the meat in buttermilk makes the fingers incredibly juicy and tender, and the aromatic onions and garlic really add a flavor punch which shines through even after a hearty swim in the curried apricot sauce.
I suppose that this is the point where I should also mention that Mike and I are only two people, but I rarely cook for two. Sometimes that means packing the same lunch for 3 days in a row, but other times this means, “YAAAAAYYYY!!! FREEZER FOOD!!!” These chicken fingers freeze phenomenally and are perfect to pull out for a haphazard weeknight dinner. If you’re cooking them from frozen, add another 5-8 minutes on to the total cooking time and celebrate a dinner that was ready with minimal Thursday night effort and DIDN’T come from Costco. Sweet chickeny joy.
I haven’t said too much about the Curried Apricot Sauce yet, have I? Well, it’s sultry with all the sweet and sour that you get in your favorite plum sauce. However, there are also the unmistakable Indian flavors that wend their way onto the tongue with a moderate heat and exotic spiciness. In short, if you get tired of dipping your fingers in this sauce you should try using the chicken instead. Ha! Sorry, I had to.
Seriously though, leftover sauce can be used to baste BBQ pork loin, chicken, or ribs. Or grilled cheese sandwiches….I hear……not that I would ever do anything like that, of course.