There’s no avoiding snack food with four kids in the house (I don’t want to be the strict health-nut mom whose kids go to college and eat Froot Loops three times a day), but snack foods never crossed into my cooking until my friend Jenny got my kids hooked on her chicken strips rolled in buttery Ritz cracker crumbs.
Despite the fancy name, Ritz crackers aren’t exactly a high-quality ingredient. Perhaps the golden rounds were made with butter when Nabisco first introduced the cracker in 1934 as an affordable luxury during the Great Depression. Today Ritz are made with soybean oil and hydrogenated cottonseed oil, with artificial butter flavoring added.
But there’s no denying the fond place Ritz crackers hold in American hearts, and to munch through a whole roll at one sitting is practically a kid’s rite of passage. Recipes with Ritz crackers range from encrusted fish to casserole topping to dessert. One of Ritz’s more creative back-of-the-box recipes is a Depression-era mock apple pie that uses broken Ritz crackers as an economical alternative to apples.
The signature dish at Cameron’s American Bistro, an enduringly popular restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, is Lake Erie walleye (a freshwater fish), topped with lump crab meat and featuring Ritz crackers in its rich crust.
As far as kids’ food goes, the combination of chicken fingers and crispy, flavorful Ritz cracker crumbs is a pretty unbeatable combination. A more sophisticated adult version might use airy Japanese panko crumbs, but with chicken fingers, the down-home appeal of Ritz crackers is a perfect fit. It’s not going to win any heath awards, but it’s a wholesome version compared with chicken fingers from any other source.
We’re in a rental house near Lake Tahoe for the kids’ school break this week, and cooking here is all about Recipes With the Fewest Possible Ingredients. This one fits the bill.
I love that Ritz are still packaged in wax paper.
You can use a food processor or blender to make crumbs from crackers. Usually I put the crackers in a sturdy plastic bag and use a rolling pin. But this time all I had was large flattish spoon and a rimmed plate. It all works.
Fortunately it doesn’t take much force to shatter Ritz crackers into crumbs.
Cut chicken breasts across the grain (across the fine lines on the breast) into strips. Or use chicken breast tenders.
You can add all kinds of flavorings to the crumbs, such as a grated hard cheese, like Parmesan, herbs (parsley, thyme and/or oregano would all be good) or garlic salt or other seasoning salt.
Dip chicken fingers in melted butter.
And roll in cracker crumbs.
Press crumbs firmly into the strips to help them adhere to the meat.
Make sure chicken is well coated.
Lay chicken fingers flat on a baking sheet or plate. We’re going to put them in the freezer for a brief zap to help the coating stick. My freezer can’t fit a baking sheet, but it works faster if you can keep the chicken in a single layer.
This is 1 3/4 pounds of chicken breast. I’ll cook some and leave the rest to freeze later. They are super convenient for quick meals.
This roomy rental freezer could have fit a baking sheet.
Baking a few to supplement the kids’ dinner. They look huge, but this is a small baking sheet.
And here they are, brown and crispy.
The kids eat them with ketchup, but adults like them straight up. This indoor-lighting picture doesn’t do justice to these tantalizingly crunchy tidbits, nor does this plate. They look much ritzier in person.
- Lake Erie walleye recipe from Cameron’s American Bistro – Cameron’s actually has the recipe online! For my walleye-loving Columbus peeps.
- Homemade Ritz crackers recipe from Cupcake Project – Who does this? I love it.
- Baked cod with Ritz cracker topping from Simply Recipes – A New England special.
Ritzy Chicken Fingers
Irresistibly crispy kid food that adults will drool over too. Keep extra in the freezer for convenient quick meals.
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (or tenders)
- 1 roll Ritz crackers (35 crackers, or about 1 1/2 cups crumbs)
- 1 stick (1/2 cup; 4 ounces) butter
Optional cracker crumb flavorings
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Garlic salt (or other seasoned salt)
- Herbs (eg parsley, oregano, thyme)
- Crush crackers into fine crumbs, using food processor or blender, or placing crackers in a Ziploc bag and using rolling pin to flatten. Place cracker crumbs in rimmed plate or baking dish. Season with additional flavorings as desired.
- Rinse and pat dry chicken. Cut chicken against the grain (across the fine lines on the breast) into strips. You can make them thicker or thinner depending on your preference, but cooking is easier if they are reasonably consistent. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.
- Melt butter in a bowl. One at a time, dip chicken strips into melted butter and roll in cracker crumbs. Use your hands to press cracker crumbs into each chicken strip to help the crumbs adhere to the meat. Place coated strips on a baking sheet or large plate, laying them as flat as possible as you go.
- When you have finished coating all the chicken strips, place baking sheet/plate in freezer. Even if you only have 10 minutes, freezing helps secure the coating to the chicken (though if you are cooking right away, it’s best to have chicken strips in a single layer). If you are making for future use, when chicken is fully frozen you may remove the strips one by one and place together in a plastic bag for more efficient storage.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake chicken strips in a single layer on baking sheet for 25-35 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken, until crust is golden brown and crisp. If you have widely varying sizes, you may want to take out smaller ones as they are ready.
Here’s the link to a printable version.