You need to whip up something quickly for supper, and there’s a guest on the way. Let’s say the situation is as dire as it could possibly be: You’ve come home late from work, you had no time to stop at the supermarket, and there’s nothing defrosted. Frozen chicken to the rescue!
The First Thing You Need to Know about Frozen Chicken
There are tons of frozen chicken recipes for dinner, but one thing is common to all of them: The thickest part of the chicken interior must be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s safe to eat.
Salmonella can survive freezing and needs to be squashed. The way to ensure safe chicken is to test it with a meat thermometer, a little piece of equipment that’s quite inexpensive but well worth the small investment.
Tenderloin and Tenders: What’s the Difference?
The terms chicken tenderloins and chicken tenders are often used interchangeably, but most recipes usually differentiate the two.
Chicken tenderloin is generally defined as a distinct, very tender muscle directly adjacent to the breast. The chicken tenderloin has a distinctive oblong shape that slopes end to end from flat to thick.
This could make cooking a tenderloin a bit tricky, since it will take longer for the thick part to reach the desired temperature. You could wind up with the outside burnt and the inside raw. However, there’s an easy fix: Place the tenderloin between two sheets of plastic wrap and firmly press it down with a rolling pin in a back-and-forth motion to even it out.
Chicken tenders, on the other hand, are any thin strips of chicken meat – usually, but not always, taken from the breast. These are quick-cooking, whether fresh or frozen. Read the labeling information on store-bought pre-frozen tenders, as sometimes it’s difficult to tell by appearance which are raw and which are pre-cooked – particularly if they’ve also been pre-breaded.
How Long Does It Take to Cook From Frozen?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, frozen foods “will take approximately one and a half times as long to cook.” In other words, frozen chicken will generally take 50 percent longer to cook than the same amount of raw chicken would take.
For example, if your recipe calls for baking raw tenders for 15 minutes, the revised time for frozen tenders should be about 22 to 23 minutes. You’ll keep your eye on them, of course, and check the temperature with a meat thermometer before eating.
If you’re using an air fryer, it should take even less time to cook the tenders. Just spritz some canola or olive oil on the chicken first.
Marinating Your Tenders
You can use a marinade on your raw frozen chicken tenderloin or tenders for added flavor, whether it’s wine-based, buttermilk-based, Worcestershire-based – whatever. If you’ve kept the tenderloins in portion-sized freezer bags, you can even marinate within the bag itself; squish the marinade around the chicken and place the bag on its side for 30 minutes.
To make your raw tenders more appealing, both aesthetically and in flavor, you can coat them in breadcrumbs mixed with seasonings such as garlic powder. If you marinate the tenders in buttermilk first, the crumbs will adhere better.
Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner
A simple way to cook frozen raw tenderloin (or tenders) is the sheet-pan method, in which the chicken and whatever vegetables you’re having will both cook in the oven on the same sheet pan. Good vegetables to roast include potatoes, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets and carrots.
Put your marinated chicken tenderloins in the oven to cook. Bear in mind that some vegetables will take more (or less) time to cook than the chicken itself, so adjust the timing accordingly.
You can also pan-fry those frozen tenders, whether they’re breaded or not. Heat up oil in your skillet (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch); then fry the tenders over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes until browned. Turn them over and brown the other side, about 5 to 6 minutes more.
You can make your own frozen tenders to have on hand for future emergencies. Cook up a batch of raw tenders first: Swipe them through an egg wash; then dredge them in your favorite coating – if you want extra coating, go through the process twice.
Freeze the breaded raw tenders in layers between sheets of parchment paper. When they’ve frozen solid (about two hours) remove them from the parchment and place meal-sized portions in airtight freezer bags. These ready-to-go tenders should last a few months in the freezer.
Judith Tingley is a writer, editor and multi-media artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. The many articles she has written for online publications reflect a broad range of interests, including international travel, cultural history and cookery. She loves finding adventures along the back roads of America. Judith was educated at the University of Chicago. Visit her website at heyjudetheobscure.com.