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~ Love Me Tender(s), Asian-Style, Recipe #3: Crispy Coconut-Chicken Tenders w/Sweet Red Chili Sauce~

IMG_0095Well, here it is folks, the last post of "Love Me Tenders(s) Week" on Kitchen Encounters.  Elvis would be proud.  It started last Wednesday, when Joe and I found ourselves snacking on a basket of chicken tenders and fries at a local pub.  We jointly decided it would be fun to post a few of our family's favorite chicken tender recipes on Kitchen Encounters, and, by the time we were on our second beer, the recipes and the accompanying sauces were all decided upon.  I have at least eight or nine recipes in my repertoire, everything from Buffalo- to Honolulu-style, but, we decided on Asian-style:  three Asian-style chicken tender recipes with three Asian-style sauces that could all be used interchangeably and/or served all together at one party!    

IMG_9428After we left the pub, we drove across the street and picked up a 6-pound package of "real-deal" chicken tenders ($12.00), enough to make all three recipes (24-28 large tenders). FYI:  Chicken tenderloins are the tenderest portion of the chicken breast, and there is only one tenderloin per breast half. Nowadays, they are readily IMG_9595available, fresh not frozen, at large markets and grocery stores!

Before grocery shopping or starting to cook any of these three recipes, I suggest you click into Categories 16 or 25 to read:  ~ Love Me Tender(s):  Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender?  Yes! ~.  This part of the chicken is my favorite and is well worth the few extra pennies it might cost!

SWEET HEAT!!!  Want some sweet red chili sauce with that?

41US76xlGSL._AA160_A bit about Thai sweet chili sauce:  Whenever I introduce someone to this product (and, if you get to know me long enough, you WILL be introduced to it), I refer to it as:  "the ketchup of Thailand".  I got my first taste of Thai sweet chili sauce back in the 1990's.  It rocked my foodie world.  To this day, it is my hands-down all-time favorite condiment.  Give me a nice piece of chicken, some fresh broccoli florets, a cup of jasmine rice and sweet chili sauce, and: 20 minutes later I will present you with a memorable dinner. There is always a bottle of it in my refrigerator, and, I won't lie, it is often a store-bought bottle (this is one case where store-bought is just that good).  How can I be sure?

6a0120a8551282970b017617268b9e970c-320wiBack in 1993 I had the great pleasure of becoming quick friends with a Home Economist from Thailand.  Kanya Wacharamai was living here in State College with her husband Fu, who was earning an engineering degree from Penn State.  When we two gals introduced my engineer husband Joe to Fu, we four began getting together regularly.  Kanya has since moved back to Thailand, but during those three marvelous years, Kanya not only taught me personally how to cook and serve Thai food:  she taught several very popular Thai cooking classes from her apartment kitchen (all of which I attended).  Thanks to Kanya, Thai cuisine is a big, happy part of my culinary life.  Thanks to Kanya, I also grow my own Thai bird chile pepper plants!

IMG_9929For the sweet chili sauce:

3/4  cup sugar

1/2  cup rice vinegar

1/4  cup water

1  tablespoon pressed garlic, about 3-4  large garlic cloves run through a press

1  tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1  tablespoon cold water

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce 

IMG_9952 IMG_9951                                                ~ Step 1. In a 1-quart saucepan, briefly stir together the sugar, vinegar and water.  Just stir long enough to combine, not to dissolve the sugar (that will come later).  Set aside.




~ Step 2.  Run the garlic through a press and set aside.  Measure the crushed red pepper flakes and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water, until smooth.  Set aside.






~ Step 3.  Bring the sugar mixture to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, stirring almost constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the pressed garlic and crushed red pepper.  

IMG_9969Adjust heat (lower it a bit), to a steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.

IMG_9972~ Step 4.  Briefly restir the cornstarch mixture.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer (lower it a bit more) and drizzle the cornstarch "slurry" into the simmering liquid.  

IMG_9982Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until nicely thickened, about 30-60 seconds.  Stir in the fish sauce. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_9989 31lfX8odCJL._AA160_~ Step 5.  Place in a food-storage container and cool until sauce is at room temperature.  Place in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or at room temperature.  Recipe yields 1 cup of sauce.  Recipe also doubles or triples with ease if you want to make a bigger batch... which I almost always do!

Note:  My sauce is not as red colored as the store-bought kind.  That is because store-bought sweet chili sauce is made using pulverized, bright-red, pickled, Thai bird chile peppers.  Some versions instruct to add Sriracha hot chili sauce, to achieve the red color, but I find that product too vinegar-y for my taste!

Songs will be written about this coconut-crusted chicken!

IMG_9995For the chicken:

1 1/2 pounds, large, meaty chicken tenderloins, about 8-9

1  cup all-purpose flour

4  large eggs, at room temperature + enough of water to total 1 cup of liquid

2  tablespoons Thai soy sauce

4  cups sweetened, flaked coconut

peanut or corn oil, for frying

IMG_0001~ Step 1.  Organize what I like to refer to as "a breading assembly line (from left to right):  1)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1 cup of all-purpose flour.  2) An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 4 large eggs that have been whisked together with enough of water to total 1 cup of liquid + 2 tablespoons soy sauce.  3)  A 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish containing 2 cups of coconut (reserve the remaining 2 cups).

IMG_9456~ Step 2.  At the wide, meaty end of each tenderloin you will notice a little white nub.  This is a harmless tendon, and, you don't need to worry about removing it entirely because the part of the tendon inside of the tenderloin is paper-thin and unnoticeable after cooking.  In fact, if you try to remove it all, it is likely the tender will fall apart. Using a pair of kitchen shears, remove the visible piece of the tough nub.

IMG_9623 IMG_9619~ Step 3. One-at-a-time, dredge each chicken tender in the flour to coat it on all sides, placing them all back in the dish of flour as you work.  When all of the chicken pieces are coated in flour...





IMG_9628~ Step 4. One-at-a-time give each chicken tender a shake, to remove any excess flour, and place it in the egg-soy mixture.  Using your fingertips, flip it over once or twice, to evenly coat it in the wet mixture.

Lift it out of the liquid and give it a shake, to allow any excess liquid to drizzle back into the dish...

IMG_0017 IMG_0006~ Step 5. Place it in the dish of coconut. Continue until all tenders are in the dish of coconut.  When all tenders are in, add the remaining coconut.  Using your fingertips, toss to coat each tender in coconut.  

IMG_9656~ Step 6.  In an electric skillet, heat about 1/4" of peanut oil to 335-340 degrees.  While the oil is heating, place a large cooling rack over a layer of paper towels.

Note:  An electric skillet works great for frying chicken tenders because it controls the heat precisely.  If you do not have one, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high.

IMG_0047 IMG_0024~ Step 7. Carefully, place the tenders in the skillet of hot oil and fry, until golden brown, about 3 1/2 minutes per side, turning only once.  

This timing will vary.  If using smaller tenders, they can be done in as little as 2 1/2 minutes per side.

IMG_0050~ Step 8.  Using a pair of tongs, remove from skillet, place on a cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with salt.  Serve warm or at room temperature with chilled or room temperature sweet chili sauce for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0116Love Me Tender(s), Asian-Style, Recipe #3:  Crispy Coconut-Chicken Tenders w/Sweet Red Chili Sauce:  Recipe yields 8 hearty appetizers or snacks and 1 cup of sauce.

Special Equipment List:  garlic press; 1-quart saucepan; 1 1/2-2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; 1-cup measuring container; fork; kitchen shears; electric skillet or 12"-14" skillet placed on stovetop; large cooling rack; paper towels; tongs

6a0120a8551282970b014e5f5853d5970c-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my yummy appetizers that uses this flavor-packed sweet red chili sauce, my recipe for ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~ is in Categories 1, 11, 13 or 14! 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


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