Let’s all satisfy the kid in us with these ultra crispy, completely irresistible Baked Coconut Chicken Tenders. We coat tender chicken in a light coconut and panko breading, bake them on a screaming hot baking sheet and then serve them with a quick warm mango salsa and a hot honey drizzle.
Baked Coconut Chicken Tenders
At heart, we’re all just big kids who relish the little things, get excited to eat dessert for breakfast, and have nothing but love for chicken tenders straight off the kids’ menu. I have never and will never be one to turn down chicken tenders, and now that I’ve found a way to make chicken tenders feel slightly elevated and grown up, I will forever own my tendencies to idolize kid food just as much as a the next trendy food craze. Baked Coconut Chicken Tenders, we’re lifers.
This tropical take on chicken tenders reminds me of every single beach-side seafood shack on the gulf of Florida. Without doubt on pretty much every single menu you can find crispy coconut shrimp served with an island-inspired dipping sauce of sorts. This means that every time I see said coconut shrimp, I immediately order it. Originally after craving a little taste of the tropics, I had planned to recreate the shrimp, but because I had just made a batch of our Maple Soy Glazed Shrimp, I decided to turn coconut shrimp into coconut chicken tenders.
Even though I was craving something crispy and fried I wanted to keep them on the healthy side, so instead of dunking each coconut and panko-crusted chicken tender in to a deep fryer, we took some notes from our Crispy Parmesan Chicken and Cheez-it Chicken Tenders and baked it on a screaming hot sheet pan to ensure each tender achieves an equally crispy exterior.
Also in the line up is a very simple warm mango salsa (similar to this one on our Blackened Chicken Burgers), which is sort of a hybrid between a fresh mango salsa and a sweet mango chutney. It has plenty of sweetness from the mango, a burst of zippiness from white wine vinegar and an underlying layer of heat from diced jalapeño.
We like to artfully dollop the mango salsa around the chicken and then drizzle with plenty of hot honey for an extra kick of sweet and heat. Oh! And plenty of chopped peanuts for extra texture and crunch.
Coconut Chicken Tenders
Chicken. I go ahead and buy chicken tenders instead of cutting chicken breasts into strips. It’s not as cost effective, but the tender part of the breast is so…tender, for lack of a better word.
Flour. I actually tried some coconut chicken tenders without the layer of flour in the breading, and I didn’t taste a huge difference. I still prefer to have a base layer of flour to make sure the egg sticks really well, but if you want to skip this step, feel free to.
Egg. You’ll need two large eggs mixed with a little bit of water. This will be your “glue” to hold the breading on the tenders.
Coconut. I tested this recipe with unsweetened coconut and sweetened coconut and the sweetened version is superior by far. I’d highly suggest using it.
Panko. I love the airy crispiness panko breadcrumbs have, so that’s what we used here. If all you have is plain breadcrumbs, that’s okay as well.
Olive oil spray. Instead of dunking the coconut chicken tenders in a vat of oil, we coat the chicken tenders in a layer of olive oil cooking spray. This helps to crisp up the tenders while they’re baking.
Butter. For extra flavor and crispiness, we coat the baking in sheet in just a touch of butter. You could definitely skip this step, but I think it helps to mimic the taste and texture of frying a little bit better.
The Mango Salsa
Olive oil. This is what we use to sauté the veggies. You could also use a more neutral oil such a canola or peanut.
Red pepper. For a little bit of sweeteness, I like to add in about 1/4 cup of diced red pepper. Make sure to diced it very finely.
Jalapeno. We like heat in our house, so we use a whole jalapeño. If you’re sensitive to spice, use 1/2 jalapeño with the seeds and stems removed. Again, you want to dice it very finely.
Onion. You can use a yellow or red onion here. Even a shallot would work well.
Garlic. Just a hint of garlic is all you need, one small clove.
White wine vinegar. I love the tang and acidic notes the white wine vinegar gives our warm mango salsa. Don’t skimp!
Honey. Honey is always my go-to sweetener when it comes to sauces and condiments, but you could also use white sugar or agave.
Let’s make Coconut Chicken Tenders
Preheat the pan. The key to getting super crispy chicken fingers is in how you bake them. We like to put our baking sheet in the oven while it preheats (425 degrees) so the moment the coconut chicken tenders hit the pan they start to crisp up. We like to skip lining the pan with parchment paper to ensure they get super crispy, but if you’re worried about mess, you can use it.
Make the breading. We use a standard breading technique. Flour –> Egg –> Breadcrumbs. As we mentioned before we use an equal portion of sweetened coconut to panko breadcrumbs. Add the panko, coconut, and a little bit of salt and pepper to a shallow bowl. Add the flour to another shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Put the eggs in another bowl along with some water and whisk to combine.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken in the flour and pat off an excess flour. Coat in the egg. Dredge in the coconut and panko, making sure to really press the breading on to the chicken. After all the chicken tenders have been breaded, spray generously with olive oil spray.
Bake the chicken. Once the chicken has been breaded. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven and drop the butter on the pan. Swirl the pan to coat it. Add the chicken tenders to the pan and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Pull them out, flip them over and bake another 5-7 minutes until crispy and brown.
Make the Warm Mango Salsa
While the coconut chicken tenders bake, make the salsa. Sauté the onion, red pepper, jalapeño, and a little bit of salt in some olive oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the veggies are softened. Add the mango, white wine vinegar, honey and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the mango is soft, about 4-5 minutes. Set aside.
Can I make Baked Coconut Chicken Tenders in advance?
Yes! I wouldn’t recommend baking them in advance, but you can absolutely bread them in advance. If you do reheat them after baking, make sure to do it in the oven and not the microwave. They won’t be as crispy, but I think they are still pretty good – only I notice the difference, my children do not.
Do I have to use sweetened coconut?
No. As I mentioned I did try both and while they were both good, my personal preference was the sweetened coconut version.
Can I make these gluten free?
Yes! Just leave out the flour and swap out panko breadcrumbs to gluten free breadcrumbs.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Make sure to pat off any excess flour before dipping into the egg mixture.
- I like to press the coconut and panko into the chicken tenders to make sure they’re coated really well.
- If you don’t want to use butter to coat the baking sheet, you could also use coconut oil or olive oil.
- Make sure to season every layer. The chicken tenders themselves, the flour, and the panko and coconut mixture. You do not need to season the egg.
- I find the only way to get extra crispy chicken without overcooking is to preheat the pan, don’t skip this step!
- Drizzle with plenty of hot honey – it adds such a nice sweetness and pop of heat.
- Even though it’s tempting try not to peek at the coconut chicken tenders while they are baking. Set the timer for 15 minutes, then flip them.
If you’re also into tropical dishes, don’t miss these favorites
- Our Shrimp Chipotle Tacos are a cinch to throw together and will definitely transport you to the beach.
- This Blackened Fish Sandwich is one of my favorite recipes on the site. We blacked a flaky mahi mahi filet and nestle it on a buttered brioche bun with Brussels sprout slaw and a spicy aioli.
- I once saw this Fish Reuben on a Cooking Channel show about the Caribbean and I had to make it immediately.
- 1 lb chicken tenders
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup sweetened coconut
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 large eggs + 1 tbsp water
- olive oil cooking spray
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter cut into quarters
- hot honey or regular honey for drizzling
- chopped peanuts for garnish
Warm Mango Salsa
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
- 1/2 jalapeno, finely diced (leave stems and seeds if you want extra spice or use a whole jalapeno)
- 2 tbsp minced or finely diced onion
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup diced mango
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup water
- salt to taste
- sheet pan
- Small skillet
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a medium to large baking sheet in the oven to heat while the oven preheats. You want space between each chicken tender, but you also don't want them to be too far apart so the butter can reach each piece of chicken.
- Season chicken tenders with a little bit of salt and pepper on both sides.
- Add panko, coconut, and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a shallow bowl or plate. Mix to combine.
- Add flour and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to another shallow bowl or plate. Mix to combine.
- Add egg and water to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Dredge the chicken tender in the flour. Pat off excess. Dredge in egg. Coat in panko and coconut mixture. Make sure to press the breading in to the chicken. Repeat with remaining chicken tenders.
- When all the tenders are coated, spray both sides generously with olive oil spray. Carefully take the hot pan out of the oven and drop the butter pieces on. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Lay the chicken tenders on the baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake 15 minutes. Pull them out, flip over and bake another 5-7 minutes until crisp and brown. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with peanuts and serve with mango salsa.
- While chicken cooks, make the salsa. Heat a small saute pan to a medium heat. Add pepper, onion, and jalapeno. Saute about 3-4 minutes until the veggies have softened. Add garlic. Cook for 1 minute. Add the mango, vinegar, honey, and water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until thick and the mango is soft, about 5-6 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.