They’re not just for kids anymore.
Boy eating chicken
Credit: Getty / Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Chicken tenders are a challenge. Because on the one hand, they are a delicious, fast way to get some protein. On the other hand, if you are not 11, they tend to be a little bit embarrassing to choose as your chicken of choice (unless you are in a bar watching a game). How to solve this problem? I discovered a traditional spice blend from India that transforms the chicken tender from kid fare to grown-up star. In other words, this is a one-ingredient miracle: panch phoron.

What is panch phoron?

Panch phoron is an Indian five spice blend that commonly includes cumin seed, mustard seed, nigella, fenugreek, and fennel seeds. It is often used as a garnish on meats, vegetables, or beans, or can be embedded in flatbreads. I tried a sample from one of my favorite spice companies, and began by using it in breads, in crackers, as a garnish on dips, or to add punch to my pickling. But it was after seeing a recipe for "everything bagel spiced chicken" that my light bulb moment occurred. Because when trying to explain panch phoron to pals, I had been referring to it as a more interesting Indian version of everything bagel spice. 

How panch phoron turns chicken tenders into a magical main

Adding panch phoron to my coating mixture for chicken tenders took them definitively out of the nursery and into the realm of serious grown-up food. The spices bring a rich, complex intensity to the tenders. Do make sure to fry the spices before you use them, though, as this brings out both the flavor and texture of the spices and it makes all the difference. I make these tenders for appetizers for cocktail parties, or as a chicken option for larger gatherings. They are also great in pita sandwiches or wraps.

You can find panch phoron at Indian markets, but you can also make your own! Simply blend equal parts brown mustard seed, cumin seed, nigella seed, fennel seed, and fenugreek and store in a cool dry place, or in the freezer.

Panch Phoron Chicken Tenders

2 pounds chicken tenders

1 cup full fat plain yogurt

2 eggs

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons panch phoron blend

1 ½ tablespoons ghee or neutral oil with a high smoke point

4 cups panko breadcrumbs

1. Mix the eggs, flour, salt, and chili into the yogurt until well mixed and put in a bowl or zip-top bag. Add the chicken tenders and move around to coat. Let rest in the fridge 2-4 hours.

2. Melt the ghee or oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When shimmering, add the panch phoron and cook until the mustard seeds start popping and the mix becomes fragrant. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl lined in paper towel to absorb excess oil. Set aside.

3. Place a rack over a sheet pan and spray lightly with nonstick spray. Heat oven to 400°.

4. In a large shallow bowl, mix the fried panch phoron with the panko and an additional teaspoon of Kosher salt and mix well. One at a time, remove the chicken tenders from the yogurt mixture, letting the excess drip off, then into the panko mixture to coat, pressing to adhere, and then onto the rack. When all the tenders are on the rack, spray lightly with cooking spray (I use spray ghee, which is great if you can find it), and transfer to the oven. You can also transfer the pan to the freezer, uncovered, and freeze 4-6 hours until solid, then stash in a freezer bag to cook as needed. Cook straight from frozen, just add 5-7 minutes to the cooking time.

5. Bake 15-20 minutes (rotate the pan halfway through) until golden brown and registering 165° in the thickest part of the tender. 

6. Serve hot with a dipping sauce of your choice, I often make a blend of yogurt and mango chutney for my dip, but these beauties are pretty darn good with regular barbecue sauce.