Crispy Chicken Tender Lollipops with Balsamic-Tomato Dip

serves: 10-12

¼ teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken breast cutlets, cut into pieces
3 garlic cloves, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, for the baking sheet

For the Cheesy Crumbs
½ cup dried bread crumbs
¾ cup Grana Padano, freshly grated
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on the cutlets
¼ teaspoon salt
3 dozen bamboo skewers


Rinse and dry the breast pieces and trim off all fat and tendons. Slice the meat, (with the grain rather than across it) in strips roughly 2-inches wide and 3-inches long: you should get about 24 pieces. Pound thick or uneven pieces, if necessary, with a meat mallet or other heavy flat object, so they're an even 1/2- to 2/3-inch thick.

Put the strips in a bowl and toss them with the salt, garlic slices, and olive oil. Let them marinate for at least 15 minutes, preferably 1/2 hour, at room temperature. Meanwhile, set a rack in the upper third of the oven-nearer the top for browning-and heat it to 425 degrees.

Toss and stir together the bread crumbs, grated cheese, parsley, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil until thoroughly blended. Lightly butter the baking sheet.

When the meat has marinated, lift out a few pieces and pick off the garlic slices. Drop the strips in the crumbs and roll them around, then pick them up one by one and press the crumbs so they stick to the meat on both sides. Insert skewer the long way through the meat, and make it stand up by pressing down in the meat so it looks like a lollipop

Set the coated strips flat on the baking sheet spaced at least a 1/4-inch apart. If you see bare spots of meat, press on a few of the remaining crumbs. Drizzle a bit more olive oil on each strip and put the pan in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the sheet back to front, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown on top and the meat is cooked through but still moist. Cut a piece open to check doneness: if the crumbs are browning quickly while the meat is still uncooked, set the tray lower in the oven and/or lay a sheet of foil on top of the cutlets. Don't let them overcook and move them to a platter as soon as they come out of the oven, so they don't dry out on the hot baking sheet. Serve hot or warm with the dipping sauce.