Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thanks for the "no, thank you" (Saffron Chicken Tenders)

As a child, I was a relatively finicky eater, much to the chagrin of my mother (who regularly handed out "no, thank you portions" in an attempt to broaden my palate). As it turns out, it was more a matter of time and maturity, and with age I've come to taste and experience wonderful new flavors and dishes that I'm absolutely certain 8-year-old me would never have dreamed of trying.

Would you say "no" to this?
One of the most unique flavors in the world is saffron, a spice from the flower of the Crocus sativus. Also known as saffron crocus, each plant has up to four flowers, and each flower has 3 bright red stigmas, which are dried along with the stalks that connect them to the plant. These must be hand-picked which is why (as J mentioned previously), saffron is the most expensive spice in the world by weight. It has a somewhat bitter taste and hay-like fragrance, and  also contains a dyeing agent, crocin, which adds a brilliant golden-yellow hue to culinary dishes and textiles. (Source: Wikipedia)

Even picky eaters will go for these
In this particular recipe, my inspiration was to use one of my favorite go-to items as a child, chicken strips, and make a more mature version with saffron as the featured ingredient. In addition, I replaced traditional breading (flour), and opted for panko instead, which provides a much crispier coating and is easier (less messy) to work with. Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb made from crust-less bread, coarsely ground into large flakes,  which don't absorb nearly as much grease/oil as 'standard' breadcrumbs. This makes for a crunchy, crispy coating that is simply perfect for breading.

Fork not necessary
Saffron chicken tenders

For a dipping sauce, I went with a simple mixture of ground saffron (using a mortar/pestle) and orange blossom honey.

1 tsp crushed black peppercorns
1 tsp pink salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of saffron threads, ground
1 8oz container sour cream
1.25-1.5 lbs chicken (breasts or tenderloins)
1 package panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
1 sprig fresh thyme, for garnish

In a small bowl, measure out spices and stir to combine.


Clean up (remove excess fat) and cut chicken into strips or bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl , stir together the sour cream and chicken until well-blended.

A thick coating
 Add the spices to the coated chicken, and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

Adding the flavor
Preheat the oven to 400° F, and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with non-stick foil (this makes clean-up much easier). Spread the panko out on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Remove the chicken pieces from the sour cream mixture, one at a time, and roll them in the panko, carefully and fully coating all sides.

Pour on the panko
Arrange the chicken pieces across the baking sheet without overlapping pieces.

No touching!
Bake for 14 minutes, flip all pieces, then bake for another 14 minutes. Slightly break one open to ensure chicken is fully cooked. Garnish with fresh thyme.



Unknown said...

I love how your childhood comfort food became a gourmet food.

Aaron Peterson said...

Thanks for the comment! While my palette has certainly broadened, I still hold a place in my heart for some of those favorite childhood foods : chicken strips, mac n cheese, etc. Lately I've found myself modifying those favorites to make them more "mature"...perhaps a take on mac n cheese should come soon... :)