Small tenders, also known as chicken tenders or chicken strips, refer to the meat from the breast of a chicken that has been cut into long, thin strips. Chicken tenders are versatile, easy to prepare, and a favorite among kids and adults alike. When boiling chicken tenders, it’s important to cook them thoroughly without overcooking them to the point of becoming rubbery. The cooking time can vary based on the size and thickness of the tenders. Generally, boiling thin, small chicken tenders will take only a few minutes.
What are small chicken tenders?
Chicken tenders are strips of meat cut from the breast of a chicken. They are called “tenders” because they come from a part of the breast that does not get much exercise, so the meat remains very tender. Other names for chicken tenders include chicken fingers, chicken strips, chicken fillets, and chicken fries.
Chicken tenders are longer, thinner, and smaller than chicken breasts. While a whole chicken breast may weigh 6-8 ounces or more, chicken tenders are usually only 1-2 ounces each. The thin shape helps them cook quickly and evenly.
The tenderloin is located right under the breast and runs along the breastbone. It’s one of the most tender parts of the chicken. When preparing chicken tenders, processors slice the tenderloin meat away from the breast into long, narrow strips.
Chicken tenders have a mild flavor and tender texture that makes them appealing. Their small size also makes them easy to handle, especially for kids. They can be prepared in many ways, including frying, baking, grilling, and boiling.
Benefits of boiling chicken tenders
Boiling is one of the healthiest ways to cook chicken tenders. Here are some benefits of boiling chicken tenders versus other cooking methods:
– Adds no additional fat or calories – Frying and breading chicken adds a significant amount of fat and calories. Boiling provides a lean, lighter preparation.
– Retains moisture – The water-based heat of boiling gently cooks the chicken without drying it out. The tenders turn out juicy and tender.
– Easy cleanup – Unlike pan-frying or baking with oil, boiling creates no splatters or spills to clean up afterward. The pot can simply be washed with soap and water.
– Versatile – Boiled tenders can be used in soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and more. Shredded boiled chicken also works well for chicken salad.
– Safe for delicate diets – The resulting mild, pure flavor of boiled chicken works well for the elderly, babies, or anyone with dietary restrictions. No strong seasonings are needed.
So for a fast, simple, and healthy chicken dinner, boiling is an excellent option. Now let’s look at exactly how long to boil small chicken tenders.
What size are small chicken tenders?
To determine the boiling time, it helps to understand what qualifies as “small” chicken tenders. Here are the usual size ranges:
– Small – 1 ounce each, 3-4 inches long
– Medium – 2 ounces each, 5-6 inches long
– Large – 3 ounces each, 7-8 inches long
When a recipe calls for small chicken tenders, it is referring to tenders that weigh approximately 1 ounce each and measure 3-4 inches in length. Four small tenders would be the equivalent of one larger chicken breast.
Of course, the thickness of the tender pieces also affects the cooking time. Thinner cut tenders will boil faster than thick ones. For a 1 ounce tender, aim for a thickness around 1/2 inch or less.
Buying packaged chicken tenders from the grocery store will provide uniform small pieces perfect for boiling. If you are slicing breast meat yourself, cut them into approximately 3-4 inch lengths and 1/2 inch thickness for “small” tenders.
How long to boil small frozen chicken tenders?
If starting with frozen small chicken tenders, they will need a bit more boiling time to cook through. Here are guidelines for boiling frozen small chicken tenders:
– Place the still-frozen tenders directly into boiling water. Do not thaw first.
– Allow the pot of water to come back up to a boil. This usually takes 3-5 minutes.
– Once the water is boiling rapidly again, boil the frozen tenders for approximately 5-7 minutes.
– Check for doneness by slicing into a thicker piece to confirm it is cooked through with no pink inside.
– Drain immediately and serve piping hot.
The key is bringing the water back to a rapid boil before starting the timer. This intense heat will quickly thaw and cook the frozen chicken pieces. While 5-7 minutes is typical, check a piece at 5 minutes just to be sure they are not overcooking. Frozen tenders are usually ready in 6 minutes or less.
How long to boil fresh small chicken tenders?
For fresh, unfrozen chicken tenders, the boil time will be shorter. Follow these steps:
– Start with a pot of rapidly boiling water. Use at least 4 cups of water for up to 1 pound of chicken tenders.
– Gently drop the fresh chicken tenders directly into the boiling water.
– Set the timer and boil for 4-5 minutes. No pre-boil time is needed.
– Check for doneness at 4 minutes. Slice into a thicker piece to confirm the interior is opaque and cooked through.
– Drain immediately and serve hot.
The shorter 2-3 minute difference is because the fresh chicken does not need to thaw. The heat instantly begins penetrating and cooking the tenders. For best results, boil fresh small chicken tenders for only 4-5 minutes total.
Tips for perfectly boiled small chicken tenders
Follow these tips for ensuring your boiled small chicken tenders come out tender and delicious every time:
– Start with a deep pot and plenty of rapidly boiling water. At least 4 cups of water allows the tenders to move freely.
– Add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Salt enhances flavor and helps retain moisture.
– Use fresh, cold water each time. Do not boil in water you have cooked other ingredients in.
– Drop tenders gently into the water one at a time to prevent sticking.
– Maintain a rapid boil throughout cooking. Turn up heat if needed.
– Stir halfway through for even exposure to heat.
– Remove immediately when done and drain well in a colander.
– Avoid overcrowding. Cook tenders in batches for best results.
– Check for doneness early. Overcooked chicken dries out quickly.
Following these tips will ensure your small chicken tenders boil up plump, flavorful, and tender every time.
How to tell when boiled chicken tenders are done
Chicken is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. However, the best way to tell if boiled tenders are done is by checking visually and texturally:
– No visible pink when sliced – Use a paring knife to cut into a thicker piece. The meat should appear solid opaque white throughout with no traces of pink.
– Juicy, tender texture – The tenders should feel moist and tender when pierced, not rubbery.
– Flakes easily with a fork – Fully cooked chicken will shred and flake easily.
– Firm, non-gelatinous flesh – If the meat has an overly soft, jelly-like texture, it is undercooked.
– Clear, non-red juices – Puncture a tender and check that the juices run clear without traces of blood.
For perfect doneness, remove the boiled chicken right when it starts feeling firm yet tender. If unsure, slice into a piece and double check that no pink remains inside.
Common mistakes when boiling chicken tenders
It’s easy to ruin the texture and moisture of chicken by making simple boiling mistakes. Avoid the following:
– Not using enough water – This causes the chicken to essentially steam and become rubbery. Make sure tenders have room to move freely in plenty of rapidly boiling water.
– Boiling too long – Chicken dries out very quickly once cooked through. Err on the side of undercooking slightly and remove right when the interior shows no pink.
– Skipping the salt – Adding a teaspoon of salt seasons the chicken and helps it retain moisture. Never skip this important boiling step.
– Not draining well – Allowing boiled chicken to sit in hot water will continue cooking it. The residual heat can overcook the tenders. Drain immediately.
– Overcrowding the pot – Too many tenders prevents them from moving and cooking evenly. Boil in batches to allow free movement.
– Reusing cooking liquid – For the best flavor, always start with clean, fresh water, not water used to boil other ingredients.
Avoiding these common mistakes will ensure your small chicken tenders boil up perfectly cooked each time.
How to use boiled chicken tenders
Beyond just serving them plain, small boiled chicken tenders are incredibly versatile. Here are some of the many ways to use boiled tenders:
– Chicken sandwiches or wraps – Chop or shred the tenders and mix with mayo, lettuce, and other sandwich fillings.
– Chicken salads – Use in any chicken salad recipe, such as classic chicken salad, buffalo chicken salad, Waldorf salad, and more.
– Tacos or burritos – Chop or shred the chicken and add to tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or quesadillas.
– Pasta dishes – Toss chopped boiled chicken into pasta salads, chicken alfredo, chicken parmesan, or chicken noodle soup.
– Casseroles or bakes – Mix in with rice, vegetables, cream soups, cheese, and spices to make a creamy casserole.
– Snacks – Chop boiled chicken and serve with crackers, pickles, and dips for an easy high-protein snack.
– Breakfast – Add to omelets, breakfast bowls, burritos, or hash for extra protein.
So don’t limit boiled tenders to just a main dish. Maximize their convenience by using these quick-cooked tenders in all kinds of meals and snacks.
Flavoring boiled chicken tenders
For the simplest, cleanest flavor, boil chicken tenders in just water, salt, and pepper. But you can also add more flavor with spices, herbs, sauces, and marinades.
Here are easy ways to infuse more flavor into boiled chicken:
– Add garlic, onion, bay leaves, celery, or carrots to the boiling water. Their flavors will impart lightly into the chicken.
– Season with garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, or any dry spices right before boiling.
– Coat tenders with barbecue sauce, buffalo sauce, teriyaki sauce, salad dressing, or other thick sauces before boiling. Brush on more after cooking.
– Marinate raw tenders for 30+ minutes in vinaigrettes, yogurt, buttermilk, or seasoned oil before boiling.
– Garnish boiled tenders with chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, or basil.
– Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salsa, pesto, or other flavorful condiments after cooking.
Experiment with your favorite seasonings and sauces to customize the flavor of fast, easy boiled chicken tenders.
Chicken tender boiling times cheat sheet
For easy reference, here is a cheat sheet summarizing the boiling times for small chicken tenders:
Fresh, unfrozen small chicken tenders:
– Boil 4-5 minutes
– 1 oz each, 3-4 inches long
– 1/2 inch thick or less
Frozen small chicken tenders:
– Boil 5-7 minutes
– Bring water back to boil first
– 1 oz each, 3-4 inches long
– 1/2 inch thick or less
Check for doneness:
– Slice to confirm no pink inside
– Meat should be opaque and tender
– Flakes easily with a fork
Recipes using boiled chicken tenders
Now that you know exactly how long to boil small chicken tenders, here are some delicious recipe ideas for using boiled tenders:
– Boiled chicken tenders
– Tomato sauce
– Grated parmesan
– Sliced fresh mozzarella
– Italian breadcrumbs
– Fresh basil
Instructions: Coat boiled tenders in tomato sauce, breadcrumbs, and parmesan. Bake until crisp. Add mozzarella and fresh basil.
Chicken Taco Salad
– Chopped boiled chicken
– Cheddar cheese
– Sour cream
– Tortilla chips
Instructions: Toss lettuce, chicken, tomatoes, onion, and cheese. Top with avocado, salsa, and sour cream. Serve with crushed tortilla chips.
Buffalo Chicken Wraps
– Shredded boiled chicken
– Buffalo hot sauce
– Blue cheese or ranch dressing
Instructions: Toss chicken with Buffalo sauce. Fill tortillas with spicy chicken, lettuce, carrots, celery, and dressing.
Boiling small chicken tenders is one of the quickest and healthiest ways to get perfectly cooked chicken for any recipe. For fresh, unfrozen small tenders about 1 ounce each, allow just 4-5 minutes of boiling until cooked through and juicy. For frozen tenders, first bring the water back to a boil before cooking 5-7 minutes.
Check for doneness by slicing into a tender to confirm the meat is opaque and tender with no pink interior. Drain and plunge into an ice bath to stop cooking, if desired. Then use the boiled tenders in sandwiches, salads, tacos, casseroles and more. Adding a few simple spices, herbs, and sauces can flavor the chicken. Follow these tips for enjoying tender, juicy boiled chicken tenders anytime.