In the world of culinary delights, few dishes can match the allure of perfectly fried chicken. Japan has a huge variety ranging from potato-chip-crisp Karaage to crackling Tebasaki wings, but there’s always room for more. For this chicken tender recipe, I’ve mashed up the marinade from my karaage recipe with the breading technique from my Chicken Katsu to come up with a party-friendly finger food that’s flavorful and juicy on the inside, with an irresistibly crisp panko crust.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Marinating the chicken fingers in ginger, sake, and soy sauce makes them plump and tender while infusing them with loads of flavor.
- Frying the panko chicken tenders at a higher temperature allows you to brown the crust without overcooking the delicate chicken.
- The fluffy panko breadcrumbs stays crisp longer than a starch or flour coating which makes it well suited for packing into bento.
- Chicken tenders - Chicken tenders (a.k.a. chicken fingers or chicken tenderloins) are a flap of meat attached to each breast. As the name implies, they're super tender but don't contain much fat, which can make them a bit bland and dry. Marinating and frying them at a high temperature gives the chicken plenty of flavor, allowing you to crisp up the outside without overcooking the center. You can also cut chicken breasts or chicken thighs into 1-inch thick strips.
- Sake - Sake is an alcoholic beverage frequently used in Japanese cuisine because it contains a high concentration of amino acids. The alcohol burns off when you cook the food leaving behind the taste of umami that's imparted by the amino acids.
- Soy sauce - This is the primary seasoning for the chicken tenders and infuses the chicken with salt and umami. I recommend using Japanese soy sauce such as Kikkoman for this.
- Ginger - Ginger not only adds a zingy flavor but also contains proteolytic enzymes that make the chicken even more tender. Other options for seasoning include black pepper, paprika, onion powder, or garlic powder.
- Flour & egg - Coating the chicken in a layer of flour and egg creates a sticky surface that makes the panko stick to the surface of the chicken.
- Panko - Panko means "bread crumbs" in Japanese, and it's a unique style of breadcrumb that uses only the white part of the bread torn into small shards. Because each crumb is larger and airier, it creates a lighter and more crispy crust than one made with Western breadcrumbs.
How to Make Panko Chicken Tenders
You first want to marinate the chicken by mixing the sake, soy sauce, and ginger and then working the chicken tenders into the mixture. I recommend letting this marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, but it's best to prep this in the morning to fry up for dinner.
When it's time to make the panko fried chicken, fill a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with one and a half inches of vegetable oil and start preheating it to 355°F (180°C).
Drain off any excess marinade from the chicken, and then use paper towels to pat them dry. Sprinkle the flour over the dried chicken and roll them around to give them a thin, even coating. The flour and egg act as a glue to hold the panko on, so don't miss any spots.
To panko crust your chicken, use one hand to dip the chicken in the whisked eggs and use the other to mound up bread crumbs onto the chicken and pat them in. This way, you avoid breading your fingers.
To fry the breaded chicken, carefully lower them into the oil and fry the chicken tenders in batches until they're golden brown. This should take about three minutes or so, and you want to make sure you flip them over once a twice so that they brown evenly.
Drain the panko chicken tenders on a paper-towel-lined cooling rack and serve immediately.
Serve Panko Chicken With
Because the chicken has been marinated, it doesn't really need a sauce, but if you'd like to have something to dip this in, ketchup, bbq sauce, or honey mustard are both good options. You can also make my Sesame Dipping Sauce or my Ponzu to go with these. Fried foods are often served with a salad made from thinly shredded cabbage in Japan, but this would be delicious with my citrusy No-Mayo Coleslaw. It would also go great with my Japanese Potato Salad or my Hawaiian Macaroni Salad.
The panko crust makes these chicken tenders fairly easy to air fry. First, you want to preheat your air fryer to 375°F (190°C). Line up the breaded chicken in an air fryer basket, leaving a little space between each one. Then spray both sides of the chicken with a light, even coating of oil. How long they take to cook will depend on your air fryer, but 3-4 minutes per side should be enough.
These can also be prepared in an oven set to 390°F(200°C). Line up the breaded chicken tenders on a baking sheet, leaving an inch between each strip. Spray the tops of the chicken strips with oil and place the sheet pan in the preheated oven. It should take about 8-10 minutes to cook. You'll want to flip the chicken over half-way through.
More Creative Fried Chicken
- Add the 2 tablespoons sake, 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce, and 10 grams grated ginger to a bowl and stir to combine. Add the 450 grams chicken tenders and coat each one with the marinade. Let the chicken marinate for at least an hour.
- When you're ready to fry the chicken, preheat a pot with 1 ½ inches of vegetable oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot to 355°F (180°C).
- Use paper towels to pat the chicken dry.
- Sprinkle ⅓ cup flour onto the chicken and dust each finger in a thin even coating of flour.
- To bread the chicken tenders, use one hand to dip them in the 1 egg and another hand to dust them with 70 grams panko.
- Scoop the panko over the chicken and gently pat it to get the breadcrumbs to adhere.
- Deep fry the panko chicken tenders until golden brown and cooked through (about 3 minutes). Be sure to flip them over periodically so they brown evenly.
- Drain the panko-crusted chicken on a wire rack lined with paper towels, and serve with lemon wedges.