When my sons were young, most weeknights saw us shuttling from one sports field (or rink!) to another, trying hard to fit in schoolwork, other activities, family time and — oh, yeah — dinner. I can’t tell you how tempting the drive-thru looked on those days. Every once in a while it was fun to give in to the lure of fast food, enjoy a quick family meal and relax knowing that there were no dishes waiting for us at home.
That was what I liked about a weeknight fast food stop. What my boys loved was chicken nuggets. What is it about chicken nuggets that makes them the nearly universally beloved childhood food? I’ve got a few guesses: They’re crunchy, salty, meaty, kid-sized finger food. What’s not to love about that, whether you’re 6, 16 or 36?
Chicken nuggets are also surprisingly easy to make at home, with ingredients you already have in your pantry, and it only takes about 30 minutes. (Beat that, fast food drive-through!) I make my Crunchy Ranch Chicken Tenders with crushed corn flake cereal, so they’re extra crunchy, and dry ranch-flavored dressing mix, because ranch dressing is somehow irresistible to the under-10 set.
The most complicated part about the recipe is breading the chicken, and even that is a snap once you get the technique down. It’s a three-step process, starting with dredging each chicken piece in seasoned flour, then in eggs, then in cereal. The trick is to get everything set up assembly-line style before you even start, including a plate to put the coated chicken on when you’re done. Then, as you bread each piece, be sure to use one hand for the dry ingredients (the flour and cereal) and the other for the eggs. Otherwise you end up essentially breading your fingertips. Be sure to shake off the excess at each step. It’s that easy!
Fast food chicken nuggets are obviously deep fried, and you could do that at home, too. But it’s not a technique I like to use for a regular weeknight meal because of the mess and the added fat. Lots of people bake their chicken nuggets, which is also a good option. But I like to use this step as one more opportunity to add flavor. So I cook the coated tenders on the stovetop in melted butter
Mmm! Garlic, herbs, tangy ranch dressing — I have to admit, it’s not just the kids who snap these right up. No drive-thru nuggets could touch these… but somebody does have to do the dishes afterward.
Place corn flake crumbs, flour and eggs each into individual shallow bowls. Add ranch dressing mix to flour; stir until combined.
Coat each chicken tender with flour mixture, shaking off excess.
Dip into beaten egg.
Press into corn flake crumbs.
Melt butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat just until bubbles begin to form.
Place coated chicken tenders into skillet.
Cook, turning occasionally, 10-12 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.