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I know we have a new dinner favorite when my picky eater kids are asking when I will be making this {insert whatever they’re eating} again while devouring their food.  Although not pleasant to look at while I’m eating, they get a free pass from talking with their mouths full when they are complimenting dinner.  Seriously though, it’s a major win when I find something that we all like that at least has it’s toe in the ‘healthy food’ bucket.  These ‘buttermilk’ ranch tenders are by no means a health super food, however, they are baked instead of fried, and made with chicken breasts so I’m going with it.  Heathly-ish.

By now you’ve probably noticed the word buttermilk in quotations.  That’s because these babies actually don’t have milk in them.  If this isn’t your first time stopping by my blog, you know that my youngest daughter has a dairy allergy and I cook accordingly.  If this is the first time you’ve visited me, hello!, I’m glad you’re here!  I used my favorite dairy free coconut milk beverage substitute, So Delicious Organic Vanilla Coconut Milk, and added vinegar to it.  I use the same trick when making my ‘Buttermilk’ Pancakes, everyone loves them and no one misses the real buttermilk.  Note: cows milk will work as well.

In my search for the perfect dairy free baked chicken tender, I will admit, there were many duds.  Some the breading didn’t stick to the chicken at all, others the breading charred to a crisp before the chicken could even cook through, and others received praises from the kids but not me or my husband (and vice versa).  Enter ‘Buttermilk’ Ranch Baked Chicken Tenders.

Buttermilk ranch baked chicken tenders #dinner #chicken #tenders #ranch #dairyfree #peanutfree

These puppies are so good, tender, with just the right amount of breading and spice.  The kids gobbled them up, eating them plain or dipping them in BBQ.  I am mildly obsessed with honey mustard, so that’s what I chose to dip my chicken in, and pour over the leftovers on my salad the next day.  I loved these so much I have considered making them just so I can have them in salads, forget the kids!  Seriously, this salad was amazing with hard boiled eggs and honey mustard!  I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it.

Buttermilk ranch baked chicken tenders #dinner #chicken #tenders #ranch #honeymustarddressing #dairyfree #peanutfree

There is kind of a lengthy process to makes these, however, they are worth it and none of the steps are too overly complex.  First things first, make your mock buttermilk and cut up that chicken.  The coconut milk needs a few minutes to turn into buttermilk once the vinegar is added, so add your coconut milk and vinegar to the container you will be marinating the chicken in before you start cutting.  I have only tried this with coconut milk, however, from posts in my food allergy groups I know that others successfully use this process of making mock buttermilk with other milk alternatives.  Not a dairy free family?  Use regular cows milk, it’ll work too.

If you didn’t purchase already cut chicken tenders you need to slice up your chicken into thin strips.  I used two chicken breast that were on the thick side, so pressing my hand down on top of the breast I sliced the breast parallel to the cutting board (essentially into two chicken breasts) to start off with, then cut each breast into strips to make tenders.  The thicker your strips, the longer you will need to cook them, and the more likely you may burn the breading before the chicken is cooked through (trust me, I did this).  I found that it’s better to have done chicken with breading that I need to crisp up in my broiler for 1 minute, than burnt breading because the chicken was too thick and took too long to bake.  Once your chicken is cut into tenders, add it to your mock buttermilk, cover it, and set it aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to marinate.

Buttermilk ranch baked chicken tenders #dinner #chicken #tenders #ranch #dairyfree #peanutfree

While your chicken is doing it’s thing, prep your pans, make your breading, and your breading assembly line.  I use about 1 1/2 pounds of chicken making these, with that amount of chicken I have found it best to repeat the assembly line twice.  Perhaps I’m not quick enough when I go down the assembly line with my chicken pieces, but I found that about half way through my bowl of chicken, both the flour and Ritz cracker breadcrumb mixer get very soggy and neither adhere to the chicken pieces very well any-longer.

For the first layer in your assembly line, put 1/4 cup of flour on a plate and salt and pepper to your liking.  Stir the salt and pepper around.  Have an additional 1/4 cup of flour and some salt and pepper ready to refill your plate when you’re about halfway through the chicken.  Layer 1 done!

Next, grab a bowl and whip up an egg for the egg bath.  The chicken will go in here after the flour layer to give the the last layer something to cling to.  Have a second egg ready for round 2.

Now for the last item in the assembly line, the Ritz cracker breadcrumbs.  Place 15 Ritz crackers into a zip-lock bad with 1 1/2 tsp of ranch seasoning.  Seal the bag and smash the cracker with your hands or rolling pin until they are bread crumb consistency.  Repeat the process with another bag, 15 more crackers, and 1 1/2 tsp or additional ranch seasoning.  I like to have a ranch seasoning blend on hand for roasting veggies and in other recipes so I always whip up a batch and have some in my pantry.  The recipe I use is at the bottom of this post, however, the packet version will also work here.

Last, use cooking spray to grease the pan(s) you plan to bake the chicken in.  I don’t have a ginormous one, so I used two smaller pans that I know will fit on the same rack in my oven so I can cook all the chicken at one time.  This is what my assembly line looked like:

Buttermilk ranch baked chicken tenders #dinner #chicken #tenders #ranch #dairyfree #peanutfree

Now for the fun part, breading the chicken.  Taking one piece of chicken at a time, remove it from the buttermilk bath, dredge the chicken in flour, dunk the chicken in the egg bath, and lastly toss the chicken in the Ritz bread crumb mixer.  Press the Ritz gently into the chicken to get an even coat, place your chicken on the baking tray and repeat the process.  When you’ve made your way through about half of the chicken replace the flour mixer, whip up that second egg, and replace your cracker crumb bag with the second mixture you made earlier.

Buttermilk ranch baked chicken tenders #dinner #chicken #tenders #ranch #dairyfree #peanutfree

After you’ve breaded all your chicken, place your tray(s) in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 12 minutes.  Flip your chicken and bake until cooked through.  Mine took an additional 12 minutes, however, this will depend on the thickness of your tenders.  If your chicken gets done and your breading isn’t quite as crispy as you like it, crank up your broiler and broil the tenders for 30 seconds – 1 minute to crisp them up.

Buttermilk ranch baked chicken tenders #dinner #chicken #tenders #ranch #dairyfree #peanutfree

Plate your chicken and add some dipping sauces, and enjoy!

Recipe and ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts (or 2 large breasts)

1/2 cup So Delicious coconut milk beverage (or other dairy/dairy free alternative)

1/2 tablespoon white vinegar

1/2 cup flour, divided in two

2 eggs

30 Ritz crackers, divided in two

3 teaspoons ranch seasoning (recipe below), divided in two

salt and pepper to taste

Dipping sauce, if desired

1 – Make mock buttermilk in the container you plan to marinate your chicken in by adding 1/2 cup coconut milk (or other dairy/dairy free alternative) and 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar.  Stir, and set aside.

2 – Slice your chicken into thin tender strips.  If your breasts are on the thicker side cut them in half first.  Do this by placing one hand on top of the chicken breast and carefully slicing it into two breasts by cutting parallel to the cutting board, then cut into thin tender shaped strips.  Place all of the chicken into the mock buttermilk marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3 – Prep the breading assembly line.  You will bread the chicken in two batches.  On a plate pour half of your flour (1/4 cup), and salt and pepper it to taste.  Have your last 1/4 cup of flour and additional salt and pepper sitting near the plate ready to refill it halfway through the breading process.

4 – Whip one egg in a small bowl.  Have another ready for round two of breading.

5 – Place 15 Ritz crackers and 1 1/2 teaspoon of ranch seasoning into two separate bags.  Seal them and crush the crackers until they are bread crumb consistency.

6 – Spray your cooking tray(s) with cooking spray and preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

7 – Remove the chicken from the fridge.  Working with one piece of chicken at a time, dredge the chicken first in flour, then dunk into the egg bath, next toss the chicken around in bag 1 of the cracker crumbs (pressing gently for an even coat), and place the chicken on the cooking tray.  Repeat until you are about halfway through the chicken, then replace the flour mixture, whip a second egg, and start on bag 2 of the cracker crumb mixture.  Repeat until all of your chicken is breaded.

8 – Bake the chicken in your 400 degree F preheated oven for 12 minutes, flip and continue baking until cooked through.  My chicken took and additional 12 minutes but this will depend on the thickness of your chicken tenders.

9 – Optional step – Broil for 30 seconds – 1 minute after the chicken is cooked through if you desire crispier breading.

10 – Plate and add dipping sauces, enjoy!

Ranch Seasoning Blend

(note – this will make more than you need for this recipe)

2 tablespoons dried parsley

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dill

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Store in an air tight container in your pantry.  Use to make dressing, marinades, roasting veggies, or more chicken tenders!

I hope you like this recipe as much as our family does, I’d love to hear how it turned out!


x – Nicole


2 thoughts on “‘Buttermilk’ Ranch Baked Chicken Tenders

    1. We love smooshing up Ritz crackers for bread crumbs over here. I use them for my Baked Italian Chicken (basically Chicken Parmesan sans the Parmesan) and in my meatballs too. Take care!

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