Everything tastes better when you smother it in batter and deep-fat fry it. Chicken fingers and fish sticks? Oh, yes. Deep-fat fried Mars bars? We’ll give it a go. Fried butter? Okay, too much of a good thing…
All of those things are most delicious right out of the fryer. But does that mean that you have to throw them out once they grow cold? Not necessarily.
Today we’ll have a little chat about reheating both frozen and fresh chicken fingers. If you were looking for how to reheat either one of those without ruining them, read on.
Fresh vs Frozen
Though frozen chicken fingers/tenders are already cooked, you are still not reheating them in the same sense as with fresh ones. Technically, you are cooking them for the first time.
Frozen fingers come to you in the same format as the food from your favorite fast food joint. Almost everything there is cooked (and hopefully salmonella-proof), it just needs finishing touches. The difference between reheating frozen and fresh chicken fingers is the same as that restaurant “cooking” the fries and you reheating them when you get home.
Keep this comparison in mind whenever you’re trying out a new method. This will also help you have more realistic expectations when it comes to final results.
In the Oven
That good, old trusted oven of yours is a great tool for reheating almost anything. It’s particularly good for this job because it produces dry heat. Combine it with some fan action, and you will end up with chicken fingers that have a crispy crust and evenly cooked meat.
Gear: A perforated tray will do so much to preserve the crispiness of the crust. It will present steam from being captures and turning the fingers into a soggy mess. These trays are also great for making perfect tarts, bread, pies, and pizza crusts, so you would be investing in a real multitasker.
Fry baskets are even better. You can get your hands on large ones that replace regular racks and turn your oven into an air fryer.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and place the rack in the middle.
Arrange the fingers in a single layer with half an inch of space between each. Bake for 15-20 minutes. There’s no need to turn them over midway unless the crust is getting a bit too dark.
Check if it’s done by scratching the surface with a fork and listening for crispiness.
You’re pretty much using the same method with 3 tiny adjustments. First is optional and if you want a darker crust: place the rack at the top middle.
Second, spray the fingers liberally with some cooking oil. The oil will raise the cooking temperature of the surface, ensuring a crispy crust.
And finally, adjust the cooking time. Adding another 5 minutes should do the trick.
In an Air Fryer
A mere decade ago, these gadgets were more of a novelty item and less useful. These days they are very smart and can do a whole bunch of things.
If you have one of those smart models, you can ignore the rest of this text. Probably all you have to do is to choose a cooking mode and enter the amount of food (by weight) and walk away.
But if your model is not getting its Harvard acceptance letter any day soon, read on.
Gear: Everything you need should come in the box. But, depending on the air fryer’s performance, design, and accessories, you may need to invest in a rack or a frying basket. They lift the food from the bottom of the fryer so there is more air circulation for even results.
If the air fryer has a “reheat” setting, follow the instructions from the manual for it. If not, pick any setting that heats up the machine to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the fingers in a single layer in the basket, making sure that you keep at least some space in between each. “Fry” for 5-6 minutes on each side. Once they are done, you should hear the crispiness when you drag a fork over the surface.
Check if the fryer has a frozen or a fish stick setting first. It will work perfectly, and you can refer to the manual for additional instructions.
If not, set the fryer to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange the fingers in a single layer in the basket with some space in between each. Optionally, spray with some cooking oil for a crispier crust.
Cook for 6-7 minutes per side.
In the Microwave
Let’s be honest, this method will not win you a Michelin star any time soon. But, it’s the middle of the night and you’re in a mood for a snack, so it will have to do.
This is one of those times when you will have to adjust your expectations. You’ll never get a crispy crust and the meat may even become gummy.
Gear: Kitchen paper. Just because we can’t get a crispy crust with this method, it doesn’t mean that we have to settle for a wet diaper.
Start by pressing the fingers with some paper to remove some excess oil from the crust. Prepare a plate and line it with 2 sheets of paper. Prepare 2 more sheets and set them aside.
Place the fingers in a single layer on the plate with half an inch of space between each. Cook on medium power (400-500W) for 30 seconds per finger.
Remove from the microwave and turn over to reserved sheets of paper. Cook the other side for the same amount of time. If you need to cook them a bit more, replace the paper first.
Most frozen chicken fingers have instructions for cooking them in the microwave on the box. If they don’t break out the manual and look up instructions on how to cook fish sticks (or for the fish stick program, if there is one).
The temperature and time settings are exactly the same for both, it’s just that sometimes manufacturers don’t add that info to their manual.
Don’t forget to line the plate with paper here as well.
In a Toaster Oven
If your toaster oven is technically a mini-me version of a standard-issue home oven, you can use the same methods from the first segment. Just keep an eye on your prize: since the cavity is smaller and heating elements are closer to the food, the cooking time will be shorter as well.
But if your toaster oven is more a toaster than an oven, we have to rethink our approach.
Such toaster ovens are essentially grill/griddle boxes. All the heat is coming from the coils or halogen lamps and no air circulates – this may lead to uneven cooking, burning, or overcooked meat. But no worries, we can make it work.
Gear: Just like with a regular oven, a perforated tray or a fry basket will help a lot. The latter is sometimes included among the accessories that came with your toaster oven.
The only difference between cooking fresh and frozen chicken fingers in a toaster oven is the use of cooking spray/oil spray. Don’t use any with the fresh ones.
Other than that, follow the same instructions below, but start checking for crispiness after 5 minutes.
Most contemporary toaster ovens come with instructions on how to cook fish sticks and chicken tenders in them. If yours doesn’t, start by turning off one of the heaters (if there are two) and arranging the frozen chicken fingers in one layer with at least half of an inch space in between each. Spray them with some oil. Place another tray or a sheet of aluminum foil at the bottom of the oven to catch the crumbs.
Cook for 7-10 minutes on each side. You’ll know that each side is done if you scratch it with a fork and you hear the crispiness.
Frying in a Frying Pan
Another method that may not always result in perfect chicken fingers. Oh, it’s great for frozen ones, but you’ll have to be extra careful if you’re trying to reheat fresh ones.
The main problem is that you are introducing more fat into the recipe. While fat is good (for any breaded food product) since it can raise the temps and produce super crispy crusts, there still can be too much of a good thing.
And fat we will have to use. As the matter of fact, we will be shallow frying our chicken fingers. Throwing
them into a “dry” pan will only result in burnt crust.
Even though shallow frying uses a lot less oil than deep-fat frying, there will still be quite a bit of it. You’ll need enough to create at least a quarter of an inch deep layer or half the thickness of the chicken fingers. At least you can reuse that oil (3-4 more times) if you make this dish often enough.
Gear: Any frying pan with higher walls will do. Regular, saute, flat-bottomed wok – whichever one you pick, make sure it is the biggest one in your collection since we’ll need a lot of surface area.
Both carbon steel and cast iron will love this task since it will become a part of their seasoning. Cast iron is better at maintaining the temperature, but carbon steel will be better at temp recovery.
You’ll use the same method as below, but you’ll have to do some prep first.
Take some kitchen paper and press it into the fingers to absorb as much moisture and oil as possible. If there’s too much of either, the crust will turn soggy or even slip off during cooking.
Also, keep in mind that they will take less time and may need no more than a couple of minutes.
Cover the bottom of the pan with oil and bring up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Gently place the fingers into the pan. Make sure that you are not overcrowding the pan and that there is about 3/4 inch space between each.
Cook while flipping them every 30 seconds. This will ensure that the crust doesn’t absorb too much oil and that the meat is reheated evenly.
Depending on the size, you may need anything between 5-10 minutes per batch. Make sure that the oil comes back to optimal temperature before adding the next batch.
You thought we were done? There are actually numerous methods of cooking and reheating chicken fingers. No wonder they are one of the staple foods of dorm-dwelling college students.
Here are a few more methods, just in case your air fryer breaks down.
- Barbeque – You can both cook and reheat chicken fingers on your good old trusted BBQ, but you’ll have to use a frying basket or another vessel. Keep them away from direct heat to cook through and move right above the flame to crisp up.
- Firepit/campfire – There’s no reason why hot dogs have to be the only option for your next outing. But don’t just poke a skewer through the chicken fingers – use a fish grilling basket instead.
- Regular toaster – A regular sandwich toaster bag is all you need to turn a plain toaster into a chicken finger-friendly machine. Simply place the fingers in the bag and toast as usual. The fingers are done when you see steam and the crust is golden brown and delicious. But, keep in mind that this technique will work only on frozen fingers and is not suitable at all for fresh ones (unless you are a big fan of salmonella).
- Clothes iron – Okay, this is getting silly. But if you find yourself locked up in a laundry room and just so happen to have some chicken fingers and aluminum foil on hand, you can have a hot meal within minutes. Set the iron to the highest (wool) setting. Wrap the fingers in foil and press with the iron. It will take about 5 to 7 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Don’t use this method with fresh fingers as well.
How to Keep Chicken Fingers Warm
Unless you own a warming drawer, a low oven is the best way to keep chicken fingers warm before serving. A Crockpot set on “warm” will do as well. Though you should wrap the lid with a kitchen towel first – the steam may turn into condensation, which will in turn drip onto the chicken fingers and ruin the crust. The towel will solve that by absorbing excess moisture.
Whichever appliance you choose, you want to place the fingers on a wire rack or in a wire basket in a single layer (with a bit of space between each one if possible). This will also prevent the steam from ruining the crust.
If you’re on the go, a good old thermos will do the trick. And since the steam will be a problem yet again, minimize the damage by lining the thermos with a paper towel first. And use the good stuff: the type that you would use when draining food after deep-fat frying.
What to Do if the Chicken Fingers Don’t Come Out Right
Since tossing food out may summon your grandma and her trusted spoon, here’s a plan B if the reheating leaves you with a soggy crust.
Ready for it? Scrape it off.
The crust is most likely to come out wrong in some of these reheating methods, while you still have perfectly good meat inside. It may not look as pretty (especially in the case of frozen fingers), but it’s still usable.
Toss them into a salad, sandwich, wrap, risotto, quiche, omelet, stir-fry, etc. Any dish that loves leftovers will love reheated chicken fingers as well.
If you need to make them look better, you can always give them a bit of color with a quick browning in a pan or with a kitchen torch.
The best way to reheat chicken fingers/tenders at home is with dry heat. An oven, air fryer, toaster oven, etc – they will all ensure that the crust stays crispy and the meat doesn’t get overcooked.
You can also fry frozen chicken fingers in some oil, but avoid doing the same with fresh ones because they can become too soggy.