One of the best things I received for Christmas was an air fryer.
And this is coming from someone who loathes kitchen appliances that have one purpose.
But! The air fryer has many purposes – something I did not realize until I owned one. It makes fabulous french fries, roasted veggies, and even muffins (!). It’s great for lightening up dishes that I would never make at home – such as deep-fried chicken tenders. One of Kieran’s favorite foods.
I have made chicken tenders in the oven many times, and while all those recipes were good, none lived up to that deep fried flavor and texture we all know and love. And while today’s recipe still doesn’t match a heavily breaded and fried tender (hey, just keepin’ it real), the flavor IS amazing and the texture is heavenly.
I’m telling you all about my honey sesame chicken tenders!
These tenders are extremely flavorful and have the best crunchy crust on the outside. I couldn’t stop eating them the first time I tested them, and when I served the next batch to my family, they couldn’t stop either. And I’ve got some PICKY eaters in this house, so I take it as a total win.
Now, if you don’t have an air fryer and do not want to get one (I totally hear ya), you CAN make these in the oven. I would bake them in a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes, flipping them at least once halfway through. You’ll get a similar effect as the air fryer without as much crispy crunchiness. But the flavor? It will rock your socks off.
The tenders are soaked in buttermilk to aid in the tenderness factor, and then they get dredged through a magical combination of panko breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, honey, and toasted sesame oil. The crust is delicious on its own (I tasted it for recipe testing purposes, hah). And once you crisp it up in the air fryer? Wow.
I like to serve these with an applesauce dip that is nostalgic to me. In high school, one of my best friends and I always used to make ourselves home fries and fried chicken cutlets late at night (teenage metabolism, right?), and we would ALWAYS dip our chicken in applesauce. I don’t know why it’s so good, but it is. A little bit sweet with our savory.
This applesauce dip is a nod to that tradition but with the flavor cranked up a bit. I mix in some Dijon mustard, honey, and hot sauce for a spicy-sweet honey mustard meets applesauce situation. It’s goooood. Like, real good. And it’s a fun alternative to ketchup.
These are a fun twist on a heavier, indulgent snack – without any sacrifice in flavor!
These Air Fryer Honey Sesame Chicken Tenders with Spicy Applesauce Dip are a healthier, no-deep-fry take on traditional chicken tenders that do not sacrifice on flavor or texture at all! A flavorful breading mixture and an air fryer make these taste like the real deal without the guilt.
For the Chicken Tenders:
- 1 lb chicken tenders
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup white sesame seeds
- ¼ cup black sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- Nonstick cooking spray
For the Dip:
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce (or to taste)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the Chicken Tenders:
- Place the chicken tenders in a bowl and season with ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat in the seasoning. Pour the buttermilk over the chicken and toss to evenly coat. Allow the chicken to sit in the buttermilk at room temperature for 20-30 minutes (or up to overnight!).
- While you wait on the chicken, preheat your air fryer to 400°F.
- Prepare the breading by combining the breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, garlic and onion powders, and remaining ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large shallow bowl or plate.
- Pour the honey into a small bowl and microwave for 15 seconds or until the honey is warm and easily pourable. Whisk the toasted sesame oil into the honey.
- Pour the honey mixture into the breadcrumbs and mix with a fork until it is well combined with the breadcrumbs. It should be crumbly and a bit clumped in spots.
- Remove the chicken tenders one at a time from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drip off, and dredge them through the breadcrumb mixture. Bread all of your chicken tenders before placing them in the air fryer.
- Once all the chicken tenders are breaded, spritz them generously with nonstick cooking spray. Spray the air fryer basket with nonstick spray as well.
- Place the chicken tenders in the air fryer basket in a single layer (do in batches, if necessary). Air fry for 10-12 minutes, flipping the tenders once halfway through.
- Serve the tenders warm with the dip alongside.
For the Dip:
While the chicken is air frying, combine the applesauce, mustard, and honey in a small bowl. Add enough hot sauce to meet your taste and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Serve with the tenders.
- Category: chicken
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