When I flipped open the lunchbox-like container for McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't this: a drool response.
The craving hit me fast, before I could think about it, before I could remind myself to act all cool in the face of Mickey D's latest attempt to fight back against the fast-casual tidal wave. I mean, who likes being a shill for a clown accused of getting America's kids hooked on salt, fat and sugar?
I couldn't have cared less about the kids as I gazed upon these tenders, all golden and slammable. The chicken strips looked like they were actually sliced from an animal. The coated breast meat came in different shapes and sizes, some long and comet-like, others wide like a ping-pong paddle. They didn't have the unnatural uniformity of nuggets, the snack that, until recently, was a crime against chicken.
Some background: After a two-year hiatus, McDonald's has reintroduced chicken strips to menus nationwide under the animal-free name of Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, which is an improvement, I guess, over the old moniker. Chicken Select Tenders, after all, sounded like another case of anthropomorphic cannibalism.
Apparently, McDonald's has been searching for a tenders recipe that connects with customers as much as its Chicken McNuggets do. I'd say they found it with this new product, a variation on the buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich that the chain rolled out a couple years ago. Marinated in buttermilk and dredged in a spiced coating, the tenders are good and crunchy on the outside and moist and meaty on the inside. What more can you want from a fried strip of breast meat?
You can order the tenders in quantities ranging from four ($3.99) to 10 ($9.99) - the large serving apparently reserved for those who want pack their organs in salt, given it boasts nearly 3,400 milligrams of sodium. (By comparison, a 10-piece McNuggets will set you back $3.99; a Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich $4.89.) You can then pair the strips with one (or more) of the nine available dipping sauces. I tried four, including the new Signature Sauce, a tomato-and-egg-yolk concoction that tastes like it's pumped full of garlic powder. (It is.)
If you're a ruthless reviewer of ingredient lists, you'll notice a recurring theme among McDonald's latest products: You don't need a chemistry degree to identify most of them. In fact, the first three ingredients in the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders could actually be found in a grocery store, not a laboratory, part of the chain's ongoing efforts to ditch artificial flavors and additives. McDonald's has already stopped serving chickens raised with antibiotics "important to human medicine."
I was happy eating the chicken tenders naked, but I was happier dunking them in McDonald's Spicy Buffalo sauce, whose first ingredient is a "cayenne pepper sauce" prepared with cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt and garlic powder. The condiment packed more heat than the Secret Service. I even gave my Buffalo sauce container its own perch. The new packaging features a pair of punch-out wells in which you can tuck sauces. It's the fast-food equivalent of setting the table before your meal.
Fast food has long been a guilty pleasure for me, right up there with 70s-era disco and the remake of "Walking Tall." But McDonald's is clearly trying to remove some of the guilt surrounding its food, even if the nutritional value of the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders could keep a diner up at night - at least up drinking water.
The last time I recommended a fast-food product with a straight face, I was probably nursing hangovers in college and eating Ho Hos for dinner. But all these years later, I'm about to do it again: Try the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders at McDonald's.
Just don't make a habit of them.