Elizabeth Karmel, executive chef of Hill Country  restaurant in New York, knows a thing or two about fried chicken. She is an expert in Southern home-style cuisine and a member of the Lean Cuisine Culinary Roundtable , a group of chefs who gather quarterly to inspire new flavors for Lean Cuisine products.
The team recently gathered at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to showcase their unique talents with food writers, and Karmel shared ways to achieve crispy, crunchy "fried" chicken, minus the deep-fry. Take a look at her tips for creating a baked "fried" chicken that packs all the flavor and crusty splendor of traditional fried chicken.
Cut and Soak Texas Tenders
Back at the restaurant, Karmel creates large, adult-sized chicken strips (which are larger than standard tenders of a chicken) by cutting a boneless, skinless chicken breast into thirds. She dubs these "Texas tenders."
Karmel recommends soaking the chicken pieces in a buttermilk brine in the fridge for a few hours to tenderize and season the chicken.
Dredge in Flour
Pat the brined chicken breasts as dry as possible, and dredge them in the flour, coating them until they are completely dry.
The key to fluffy "fried" chicken is using a self-rising flour, seasoned with a little garlic powder and black pepper. Karmel boosted the flavor of her dredging flour by adding Lior Lev Sercarz's Arrat Spice Blend , made with urfa biber, spiked paprika, and fenugreek.
Dip in Egg Wash
Quickly dip the floured chicken breasts into the egg wash. Don't let them hang out in the wash, or else the batter will end up gummy. Simply dip and lift, waiting a few seconds to let the extra egg seep back into the bowl.
Coat in Crushed Crackers and Pecans
According to Karmel, toasted pecans and crushed saltine crackers offer the crunch, toasty flavor, and hint of nostalgia that make this version of baked "fried" chicken truly comforting.
Carefully place the egg-dipped chicken breast into a mixture of crushed saltines and pecans, and then gently scoop up the mixture and bury the chicken in it until the chicken is fully coated.
Place Cookie Sheet on a Half Pan
The trick to keeping the chicken crispy on every side is by using a drying rack on top of the cooking pan. This enables the air to circulate around the chicken and crisp up every side.
Bake It Right
Bake the breaded chicken breasts on the rack at 350°F for 20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Serve Them Up
These baked "fried" chicken tenders are an addictive appetizer for parties or a comforting meal for dinner. Serve them alongside your favorite sauce. Crispy from the crackers, earthy and nutty from the pecans, and salty from buttermilk brine, these tenders definitely pack a flavor punch that will make you rethink your frying pan.