By: Renae E. Wilson
I think we all know by now that cooking for special dietary needs doesn’t have to be a sentence to flavorless, unexciting, “much to be desired” alternatives to the “real” things. It’s been so fun to see, work with, and learn from all the new books, products, and recipes that make dietary substitutions not only easier, but more exciting.
I work as a private chef, and needed to make gluten-free chicken tenders for a client of mine. At the time, I had access to limited options. I’d used ground nuts before, and while they work perfectly fine, they never really delivered the kind of “crunch factor” I was after. You know, the shattering crunch you get from the easily (though unwillingly) shareable chicken tenders basket at a pub, accompanied by a cold pint.
I had the desire to do something different, and upon noticing gluten-free pretzels in my client’s pantry, I went for it. Describing these as a happy accident would be an understatement. Nut flours, seeds, crackers, and other gluten-free breading options made for sufficiently crispy coatings in the past, but crushed pretzels gave my tried-and-true chicken tenders recipe a, dare I say, un-pretzel-dented twist. (I’ve also tried these with traditional pretzels—just as good.) Frying at home is no small feat, I realize—but upon first bite, I bet you’ll agree that the payoff is worth it.
As for the dipping sauce, I revisited classic pairings: mustard and pretzels, honey and mustard, honey mustard and chicken. All of our flavor friends get wrapped up into one dish here—united by a pot of savory, chili-kicked, garlicky caramel.
—Renae E. Wilson
For Chicken tenders
2 pounds boneless chicken tenders
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (16-ounce) bag pretzels (gluten-free or traditional), crushed
Neutral oil (such as grapeseed or safflower), for frying
For Honey mustard caramel
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Whisk together the cornstarch and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. In a third bowl, stir together the crushed pretzels, spices, and remaining teaspoon of salt.
- Pat the chicken dry. Dredge a chicken tender in the cornstarch mixture, then dip it into the milk mixture. Then add it to the bowl with the pretzels, pressing them into the chicken to get a good, even coat. Transfer each chicken piece to a plate until they are all properly coated. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Heat 3 inches of oil in a large, tall-sided pot. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the oil to bubble up. When the oil reaches 350°F, carefully add 3 to 4 chicken tenders. Fry until the exterior is deep in color and the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken to platter and sprinkle with flaky salt while they are still hot. Serve the chicken with the honey-mustard caramel sauce.
Honey mustard caramel
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, cream, mustard, and chili flakes.
- In a small sauce pot set over medium-low heat, add the sugar in an even layer, and let cook until reddish-brown around the edges. Using a heat-proof spatula, gently drag the liquified, browned sugar to the center of the pot until all is molten.
- Remove from the heat, and carefully add in the honey mixture (be careful—the liquid will bubble up furiously!). Return the pot to medium-low heat, and whisk vigorously to bring the caramel together. Once smooth, let gently simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt. Let cool slightly.
PHOTO BY TY MECHAM. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE.
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