Make Ahead Bacon Wrapped Chicken Tenders for the Freezer
A Childhood Memory
When I was a child, someone brought a dish called Company Chicken to my grandmother’s post-funeral meal. I thought it was one of the tastiest things I'd ever eaten. I never really knew what was in it and I craved it for years afterwards. Many times after that, I asked my mom if she could make it, but apparently it made more of an impression on me than it did on her, as she couldn’t remember the dish.
While browsing through a cookbook from my hometown, I stumbled across a recipe for Easy Party Chicken that sounded delicious, even if it wasn’t the recipe for which I’d been searching. I thought it odd that the recipe contained corned beef slices AND bacon, as surely this would make for a very salty dish. I tried the recipe and realized that this was IT. I found the recipe from my childhood. I made it now and again, but not too often, as it was indeed very salty and I knew it probably wasn’t that healthy.
My Hometown Cookbook with the Recipe
Easy Bacon Wrapped Chicken Tenders for the Freezer
After I started once a month cooking, I figured out a way to convert the recipe to freezer style. I also cut down on the amount of salt by eliminating the corned beef slices. While this recipe cannot be considered health food by any stretch of the imagination, it does eliminate some of the sodium and fat that accompanied the original. Also, it is much easier to prepare, store and serve than the original.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 35-40 minutes
Freezer Style Bacon Wrapped Chicken Tenders
12 raw chicken tenders (not the type that are breaded)
1 tub of chive and onion cream cheese
12 slices of bacon
1. Make a slit lengthwise but not all the way through each chicken tender.
2. Spread a generous tablespoon full of chive and onion cream cheese in the slit.
3. Wrap each chicken tender spirally with a slice of bacon.
To Store in the Freezer
I am a fan of vacuum seal bags for freezer cooking, but you do not need to rely on them. I also use self sealing freezer bags (gallon size). I prepare each spirally wrapped chicken tender, then nestle them, sides touching, in a freezer or vacuum seal bag that is placed on its side to maximize surface area. Sometimes I line the side of the bag with a piece of 9 x13 foil that I fold in half. The foil liner makes it a little easier to transport and store the tenders. When it is time to bake, I slide the tenders and foil out together, unfold the foil and use it to line my baking pan for easier clean up.
Vacuum or Self Seal?
This is the type of vacuum sealer I own. I like its upright design as it makes it easier to seal juicy foods.
If you don't have a vacuum sealer, regular self-sealing bags are fine to use. Go ahead and take advantage of the bulk purchase savings. They store easily and this supply will last a long time.
On Serving Day
Thaw your bacon wrapped chicken tenders in the freezer overnight in the bag. Or, if you place them in the refrigerator by 8:00 am on the day you plan to serve them, they should be thawed by 5:00 or 5:30 that evening. Remove tenders from the storage bag. If you used a piece of aluminum foil as a liner, unfold it so it covers the bottom of your baking pan. Space your tenders on the pan so they aren’t touching each other. Preheat oven to 400 ° F. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the juices run clear. Place under the broiler for 5 minutes to crisp the bacon, if needed.
I usually serve this with rice and a garden salad or sautéed fresh spinach. Sliced peaches also go well as an accompaniment
I Even Freeze the Rice for Make Ahead Ease
I have described on other hubs how to prepare rice for the freezer, but as it is so convenient, it bears repeating.
I often pre-cook rice and freeze it to make weeknight cleanup much simpler. All you do is prepare your rice as usual. Then, spread it into a single layer in a Ziploc® freezer bag. Flatten it out to freeze in a layer. I defrost mine the night before when I defrost the pork. When ready to serve, add a tablespoon of water and heat it at two minute intervals, stirring in between, until the rice is all heated. Ziploc® brand Freezer and Storage Bags may be used for microwave reheating and defrosting. The Ziploc® website recommends opening the bag one inch to vent.
My rice of choice for this method is to use jasmine rice. My family likes its flavor, which reminds them of popcorn. The grains also seem to hold up better to the freezing and reheating process.
Chicken Breast VS Chicken Tenders VS Chicken Fingers
If you purchase whole chicken breasts, you will see that the breast is actually made of two parts. One is the flat, sort of triangular piece of meat and the other is a skinny sort of flap that is like a tenderloin of beef. If you have ever cooked a whole breast, then you know that the uneven thickness of these two portions makes it tricky to get the center of the breast cooked without drying out the thinner edges. Restaurateurs experienced this same problem, but even cooking times are even more critical to them. So, to meet their needs, chicken processors began to separate the larger piece of the breast from the smaller, more narrow piece so they could be sold separately in convenient, similarly sized portions. The larger piece is perfect as an entrée and the smaller piece became instant finger food.
It can be conjectured that this narrow strip of meat became called chicken fingers because A) it resembles a finger or B) it is finger food. Before chicken fingers became popular, I remember the first time I saw this item on a menu in a restaurant. My first thought was that if I ordered it, something like a chicken foot with claws intact would be placed before me. The server explained that is was in fact a deliciously tender cut of white meat chicken, no digits present. No matter how it got its name, the fact is that chicken tenders sell for a few more cents per pound than the other portion of the chicken breast, so processors have a vested interest in keeping the public wanting more.