First of all, let me just say: these Chex Mix chicken tenders are NOT a gimmick. They are A+ top of the line juicy, tender, crunchy, crisp, super flavorful chicken tenders. They just also happen to taste like Chex Mix.
Basically, what happened is this. During quarantine, Jimmy got really into making Chex Mix. He made probably a dozen or so huge batches of it. He has perfected the art of Chex Mix. Some people got into sourdough. Jimmy got into Chex Mix. I certainly am not complaining. Because in that time, I was inspired to make Chex Mix popcorn.
But then we started wondering what else we could Chex Mix. That's right, "Chex Mix" is a verb now.
Chex Mix seasoning is simple: Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and that's it. It's great on pretzels and bagel chips and corn/rice cereal sure, but those flavors are just as easily adapted for use on non-snack foods.
Our first attempt at "Chex Mix chicken" involved zero frying. We seasoned chicken thighs with a Chex Mix seasoning blend and cooked them skin-side down in a hot cast iron for maximum crispiness. Then we made a pan sauce using Worcestershire sauce to glaze them with as they finished cooking in the oven. They were good, but not great. Way too salty.
Knowing that crushed corn flakes are often used to help add crunch to fried chicken, we quickly realized that doing the same with Chex cereal was the way to go. But we didn't just want Chex-crusted chicken tenders. We wanted Chex Mix chicken tenders.
We also didn't want this to be a gimmick. It would be easy to crush or grind up some Chex Mix and use it as breading and call it a day. That's not what we were after. We wanted high quality, well-made, juicy, crispy, tender, flavorful, crunchy A+ top of the line chicken tenders. Chicken tenders that were so good they were worth the effort. So that's what we set out to make.
The best fried chicken we've ever made came from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's The Food Lab. His recipe has you soak the chicken in a buttermilk brine prior to breading and frying to keep the chicken juicy. So we whipped up a buttermilk brine infused with Worcestershire sauce and a blend of Chex Mix seasonings and let our chicken tenders soak for several hours.
Every single layer of flavor added to these chicken tenders is infused with Chex Mix seasoning, from the brine to the breading, to the dipping sauce.
Once brined, we patted the tenders dry, then double-dredged them in a mixture of crushed Chex cereal, flour, and corn starch mixed with seasoned salt, onion and garlic powders, and paprika.
To make sure the Worcestershire flavor wasn't left behind in the breading process, we reserved the brine from the bag and used it — instead of beaten eggs — as the liquid to get the dry crunchy breading to stick to the chicken tenders.
We tested a few different methods for breading the chicken to make sure the lovely golden brown crispy bits wouldn't slide off when you bite in. We found that letting the breaded chicken tenders rest for 10 minutes before frying them is the key to preventing breading slippage. (Is that a term? It is now.)
Instead of deep frying, we used our 10" Lodge cast iron (frying is one of the best ways to season a cast iron!) and did a shallow fry in an inch or two of canola oil. Because these are boneless, they only take about 3-4 minutes per side.
They came out so gorgeously crispy and crunchy and perfectly golden brown. And the geometric patterns from the crushed Chex cereal in the breading are just really fun, if I do say so myself.
"But Rebeccaaaaa, what do they taste like?" If no one told you these were Chex Mix chicken tenders, I'm not sure you'd bite in and immediately go, "Egads my dear, these chicken tenders taste of Chex Mix!" (You do say "egads," right?) And this makes sense; as previously noted, Chex Mix flavors are ridiculously common in savory cooking.
You're far more likely to bite in and have a niggling feeling that there's some familiar flavor combo happening that you have great affection for, but can't quite place.
The great secret of Chex Mix is that the Worcestershire sauce is what ties it all together. And when you dunk these in the Worcestershire-and-mayo dipping sauce, that familiar combination of flavors is undeniably Chex Mix.
Like I said. These Chex Mix chicken tenders are not a gimmick. They're really good, super crispy, juicy and flavorful chicken tenders. They just happen to get their flavor profile from the same seasonings that make Chex Mix one of the all-time greatest snack foods.
notes on chex mix chicken tenders
- There is still an egg in the binding mixture — instead of adding a third dredging station for dipping the tenders in beaten egg AND the reserved brine, we simply mixed an egg right into the brine.
- When you dredge the chicken in the dry and wet mixtures, use the "wet hand" and "dry hand" method so you don't end up with clumps of breading stuck to your hands. Use one hand to handle the chicken tenders in the wet mixture and the other hand to handle the chicken tenders in the dry mixture.
- Make sure the tenders are fully and thoroughly coated in the dry mixture. Press it firmly into the flour and crushed Chex on all sides. The first time you dredge it, the chicken will likely only pick up the finer dry ingredients. Once it's taken a quick dip in the reserved brine the crushed Chex will cling a lot better during the second dredge.
- Make sure you dispose of the frying oil responsibly (i.e. don't pour it down the drain).
- UPDATE 12/14/20 — For frying chicken you want your oil around 350F. It can be a bit hard to measure this in a shallow pan, but if you have an instant read thermometer, check the oil periodically and adjust your burners as needed. Every time you add new chicken the temperature will drop slightly, so just keep checking and adjusting so the breading doesn't burn.
other recipes you might like
chex mix chicken tenders
- 1 gallon resealable freezer bags
- 1 quart resealable freezer bags
- 2 lbs chicken breast (cut into 2" strips)
- vegetable oil (or peanut oil, for frying)
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon sriracha
Brine the chicken
- Combine all the ingredients for the brine in a large gallon resealable bag.
- Cut the chicken into 1-2" strips. You should get about 6-7 strips from each chicken breast, and may end up with some awkwardly shaped strips. That's okay!
- Add the chicken to the brine in the bag. Press out any air, and squeeze the chicken around so it's all evenly coated.
- Chill in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours but no more than 8 hours.
Breading and frying
- Begin heating about 1½" of vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet over low-medium heat.
- Prep your breading station. Scoop Chex cereal into a bag, seal tightly, and roll over it with a rolling pin a few times to crush the Chex into pieces. Combine crushed Chex, flour, corn starch, and spices in a wide, shallow bowl.
- Unseal one corner of the bag with the chicken and brine and pour the brine into a second wide, shallow bowl. Get as much of the liquid out as you can. Set up a cutting board to put your breaded chicken tenders on to rest before frying. Tear several paper towels and have them within reach.
- Unseal and roll the top of the bag down. Pick one hand to be your "wet" hand and one hand to be your "dry" hand. (I find it's easiest to use my dominant hand as my "dry" hand and my non-dominant hand as my "wet" hand).
- Working with no more than 3 chicken strips at a time, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Then use your dry hand to lay it flat in the dredging mixture and push some of the flour and chex mix on top of it. Flip it over and press it flat in the dredging mixture again. Make sure all sides are fully coated.
- Use your dry hand to pick the chicken strip up out of the flour and lay it down in the dish with the excess brine, being careful not to let your fingers touch the liquid. Then, use your wet hand to flip the chicken strip over and make sure it's fully coated, then pick it up, letting any excess liquid drip off, and lay it back in the dredging mixture.
- Use your dry hand to flip the tender over, pressing it into the dry mixture so that it's fully coated on all sides. Remove from the dredging mixture to the cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat until all chicken strips have been dredged and rested for 10 minutes.
- While the chicken strips rest, increase the heat under the cast iron to a little above medium. To test if the oil is ready, dip the end of a wooden chopstick in the oil — if you see tiny bubbles around it, the oil is ready. Otherwise, you can dip a corner of one of the chicken strips in — if it bubbles immediately, you're ready to fry.
- Line a sheet pan with paper towels and a cooling rack. Work in batches to fry the chicken strips for 3-4 minutes per side. Add more oil if needed between batches; there should be enough oil that it comes about halfway up the strips when they're laying flat in the skillet. Remove the strips to the cooling rack and repeat until all the strips have been fried.
make the dipping sauce
- Combine mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and sriracha in a small bowl. Adjust proportions to taste.
- The 10 minute resting time is crucial for making sure the breading sticks to the chicken tenders post frying. If you skip this step you'll end up with breading that slides off the chicken when you bite in.
- The amount of oil you need depends on how big your skillet is!
- Make sure you dispose of the oil properly — use a funnel to pour the cooled oil into a large bottle and throw it away. Don't pour it down your sink.
- The brine and the dredging mixture use the same amount of the Chex Mix spice blend. You can make one double batch and split it in half, or you can do the measurements twice, once for the brine and once for the dredging mixture.