I was recently asked for suggestions on a fingers food to make for a party with kids. Looking through my archives, a lot of what I found was more grown-up oriented, and kid-friendly dishes like my chicken parmesan and orange chicken work better for a sit-down affair. I'd turned my orange chicken into bite-size orange chicken meatballs last year, so it got me thinking how I might be able to turn my chicken parm into a finger food.
Lilliputian bites of crispy parmesan crusted chicken with a marinara dipping sauce seemed like a real crowd pleaser. But I didn't just want to please, I wanted something that would blow people's minds, and what better way to up the wow factor than to stuff the chicken with cheese!
Think about it... you're plodding down the buffet line and spot these tasty nuggets of crisp chicken covered in parmesan. You give it a dip in the thick marinara sauce and smirk as you recognize the chicken parm reference, and then, as you take a bite.
and strings of stretchy cheese pull away with the chicken. KABOOOOOM! mind blown!
Back on a more serious note, this isn't just a cheap party trick. The cheese actually has a purpose (beyond the little mushroom clouds of bliss hovering over everyone's head). Chicken tenders, which are a part of the breast, tend to be very lean. This means that they dry out easily and lack flavor. The fat from the mozzarella not only helps keep the chicken juicy, it contributes some much needed umph in the flavor department.
For those of you that are thinking this looks like a lot of work, don't worry, it's not. You can stuff and bread the nuggets ahead of time, so all you have to do is fry them as guests arrive. There's no magic involved in getting the cheese into the chicken either. Just cut little pockets into the chicken with a small knife, and stuff it with cheese.
The flour and egg act as the glue that not only holds the crust together, it also helps keep the cheese from leaking out as it melts. To that end, it's important to make sure you get a nice thick coating of flour onto the chicken before egging and breading it. Even if you do a great job sealing the chicken you're still going to have a few that leak out a bit of cheese, so be sure to have a mesh skimmer handy to scoop out any cheese that's floating in the oil.
- Cut the mozzarella into 1-inch x 1/3-inch x 1/3-inch sticks (3cm x 1cm x 1cm).
- Cut each chicken tender into 3 pieces about 1 1/2-inches in length.
- Use a sharp paring knife to cut a pocket into each piece of chicken lengthwise. You want to cut almost all the way through the chicken.
- Stuff he mozzarella into the pockets you just making sure the cheese goes all the way into the chicken (but doesn't come out the other side).
- Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper to season.
- Put the flour into one bowl. Break the egg into a second bowl and beat until uniform in color. In a third bowl, add the panko, parmesan, and parsley and mix to combine.
- Dust all of the chicken with a generous coating of flour, rolling each piece around to ensure you get a thick even coating of flour.
- Then use one hand to dip the chicken in egg, and then transfer it to the bowl of panko.
- Use your other hand to roll the chicken nuggets around in the panko. This will keep your hands from getting breaded along with the chicken.
- Prepare a wire rack lined with two sheets of paper towels.
- Add 1-inch of oil to a heavy bottomed pot and heat to 340 F (170 C).
- Fry the chicken on one side until the panko starts to brown around the edges and then flip and fry the other side until browned. Be careful not to over fry the chicken or the mozzarella will come spewing out and the chicken will become dry.
- In all likelihood some of your nuggets will leak a little mozzarella so keep a small mesh skimmer handy to skim off any bits of mozzarella that escapes.
- Serve hot with a bowl of basic tomato sauce.