Vegetable oil, for frying
2 1/2 cups complete pancake mix, any brand, divided
1 1/4 cups water
8 teaspoons hot sauce, divided, such as Tabasco
1 1/4 pounds chicken tenders or chicken breasts cut into small bite-size pieces
1 cup store-bought, good quality refrigerated blue cheese dressing, such as Marie's brand
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper (1/3 palmful)
Cut celery sticks, store-bought, for garnish
In a deep-sided skillet, heat 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil over medium heat. If you want to test the oil, add a 1-inch cube of bread to the hot oil. If the bread turns deep golden brown in color in a count of 40, the oil is ready. While the oil is heating, make the batter. In a wide mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of the pancake mix, 1 1/4 cups water and about 6 teaspoons hot sauce. Place the remaining plain 1/2 cup pancake mix in another wide mixing bowl. Arrange the batter and the bowl of plain pancake mix near the cook top and the heating oil. Line a plate with a few sheets of paper towels and keep within reach. Once the oil is heated and ready, toss the chicken pieces in 2 teaspoons of hot sauce, then toss in the plain pancake mix, coat evenly and shake off the excess. The plain dry pancake mix will help the batter stick to the chicken pieces. Add some of chicken to the batter – you are going to want to work in 3-4 batches coating and frying. Using a fork, toss the bites in the batter. Remove the first batch from the batter, shaking off the excess batter as you carefully add them to the hot oil. Fry for 2 minutes on the first side, or until the first side is a deep golden brown, flip and continue to fry for another 2 minutes or until deep golden brown all over. Remove from the oil and drain on the paper towel-lined plate, season with salt. Repeat until all the popcorn chicken bites are fried.
Serve immediately with refrigerated, good quality creamy blue cheese prepared dressing with chopped scallions and black pepper stirred into it for dipping. Garnish the platter with celery sticks.