Crispy + Healthy-ish Chicken Nuggets

crispy + healthy-ish chicken nuggets | displacedhousewife

crispy + healthy-ish chicken nuggets { shut up & eat }

Living in China introduced me to lots of things. Lots of Chinese things (obvi), but also lots of European things. My first Euro find was Nutella. Although it’s been in the US since the ’80s, I had never, ever tasted it. I know, weird. I would stroll the markets in Beijing, looking for interesting products that I didn’t see at home or have any idea what they were. Hidden in a small corner (of an already small store) was a stout, seductive hazelnut-chocolate concoction that I lazily threw into my Barbie-sized shopping cart. There is some secret aversion to large shopping carts in Beijing that I’ll never understand. I didn’t want to go to the market every…single…day…with a baby and a three-year old. But I did. Because I had to. Because I could only shove so much crap into those wee carts. And I bought a lot of product. A lot of interesting, strange, delicious and sometimes awful product. I won’t even bore you with my soap nuts phase.

Needless to say, I became obsessed with Nutella. I would grab a spoonful, press my forehead agains the windows in the living room and stare at bike riders and migrant workers scurrying about down below. Everyone in a hurry. Where were they going? Grab another spoonful of Nutella, yawn, contemplate the post-apocylypic pollution. Think about how we needed more air purifiers in the apartment. Was I having trouble breathing? Was I getting asthma? Were my kids going to get sick? Bad sick from living in this?? Shovel in another spoonful of Nutella and think about how mildly irritating it was that everyone back home was blissfully asleep. Who might be awake? More Nutella. Sober day-dialing ensued. Better put my sweats back on. Why do these pants feel tight?

My next love affair was Wheetabix.  Not just the regular Wheetabix (snooze), but they have a chocolate chip variety that is like crack. It will knock your socks off. I was eating Fred Flintstone-sized bowls of it. One bored day with the city cloaked in haze, gunk and pollution, I finally cracked the metric system. What else are you going to do when you have an infant, a preschooler, a jar of Nutella and you’re hanging in the PRC? I almost had a stroke when I realized the calories I was consuming. I put the spoon in the sink. Thought about throwing away the Nutella and Wheetabix, but that would be just wasteful, right?

After I signed up for pilates and got a trainer, I decided to explore other areas of the small store with my small cart and found Finn Crisp. Using my shaky metric conversion abilities I figured out that these weren’t so bad and I ate them topped with sharp cheddar ad nauseum. Are you getting the theme, here? Lo and behold the Finn Crisp people sent me a case recently to see if I wanted to get crafty with them. They are nostalgia on steroids for me, so how could I resist?

To further bathe them in nostalgia I dusted off a recipe that I hit hard while in the PRC…homemade crispy chicken nuggets. The chicken nuggets at fast food places are delicious, but they always make me feel sick afterwards and I’m never quite sure what I’m putting in my mouth. I decided that Finn Crisp-coated chicken chunks were going to be delicious and crispy and tasty. And they were. They reminded me of our ayi, Xiao Zhang. She learned how to make some bad ass chicken nuggets.

Before We Get Started:

  • Make Ahead: You can coat your chicken and do everything short of pan-frying the night before, just wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook.
  • Serve With: Sometimes I like to make baked sweet potato fries with these chicken nuggets. A simple salad? Cucumber slices? If you follow my Instagram you saw that yummy roasted Romanesco I made…you could try that. Whatever veggie strikes your fancy, go with it. As for dipping sauce, we had BBQ and tzatziki and I would have to say that the tzatziki was the winner, hands down. Try it. You’ll like it. Oh, one other option: just squeeze some fresh lemon on top. YUM. Love this.
  • Variations: The Finn Crisp coating turned out a really nice, crunchy exterior that sealed in the juicy chicken. Don’t bother throwing them in a plastic bag to crush with a rolling pin (my usual aggression-releasing method). They are too sharp and will puncture the bag. These should be ground up in your blender. I have a Vitamix and it works like a charm. Just make sure it’s dry on the inside. It sounds like I’m getting money from both Finn Crisp and Vitamix and I’m not, for the record. I’ll only mention specific products when I really use or believe in them, as a side note. *IF* you don’t have Finn Crisps on hand, you can use panko bread crumbs or grind up another cracker as a substitute. One last note, I LOATH pre-seasoned breadcrumbs. They take bland to a whole new level. If you have one takeaway from this post, season your own breadcrumbs and, ideally, make your own.
  • Make it Sophisticated: We had friends over and it just rolled right into drinking wine and eating chicken nuggets. It was a natural combo. You could easily pair this up with a martini or beer. Perhaps a soft blanket and some good TV? Also, you could put these nuggets on a salad with some buttermilk or ranch dressing…just saying.
  • Before You Start:  It’s all about the meat. I had chicken breasts and cut them up with kitchen shears. Yes, I’m that lazy and it worked like a charm. You want to make sure they are pretty even-sized chunks so that they will cook evenly, at about the same pace. About the same size and width of your two index fingers put together…I’m thinking ours about the same. You could also buy uncooked chicken tenders at the store, in which case cutting isn’t needed. Even better. That has my vote.
  • Muy Importante. Breading anything is an art form. I’m going to give you a couple of tips to make sure your crispy exterior is just like mine. First, make sure you put your bowls out, in the order of dipping. Put your chunks in the buttermilk (you can substitute with milk or even yogurt if no buttermilk is available), grab a chicken chunk out and let all the excess buttermilk/milk/yogurt drain off back into the bowl. Once all the extra is gone, then dip into the flour. Coat it well, and then shake off all of the excess. Repeat with the remaining dipping bowls. The key? Shake off the excess and you’ll have a nice exterior that sticks to the chicken and doesn’t fall off in chunks.

crispy + healthy-ish chicken nuggets | displacedhousewife

crispy + healthy-ish chicken nuggets | displacedhousewife

{ crispy + healthy-ish chicken nuggets }

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken, cut into equal-sized chunks
  • ½ cup buttermilk (…or milk…or yogurt)
  • 20 Finn Crisps, crushed to oblivion into an amount that equals about 1 cup of crumbs
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, whisked together
  • Salt and pepper
  • Unsalted butter and oil for cooking

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Put the chopped chicken in a large bowl with the buttermilk. Coat the chicken in the buttermilk, sprinkle generously (about 1 teaspoon each) salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Put the flour in another medium-sized bowl. I use large pasta bowls for this. I find that a cereal bowl is too small and these are just right. But, seriously, you’re using four bowls so find something that can accommodate the coating ingredient, as well as the tossing-action of coating the chicken. Got it?
  3. Put the whisked eggs in another medium-sized bowl.
  4. Likewise, put the crushed Finn Crisps in another bowl so you have four bowls, total. I know. The dishes. Sorry.
  5. Set a clean plate at the end of the line, near the Finn Crisps mixture. You’re going to dip in flour, then egg, then the Finn Crisp final coat and then the clean plate.
  6. Pull a tender out of the buttermilk, holding it above the bowl so that all of the excess buttermilk falls back into the bowl.
  7. Then, dip the tender in the flour. Fluff it around and get it all nice and covered and then shake it over the flour bowl so that any excess falls back into the bowl.
  8. Then dip the tender (that’s covered in flour), in the egg wash. Hold it above the bowl so that all the excess egg falls off the tender and back into the bowl. Are you getting the hang of this?
  9. Finally, dip the tender in the Finn Crisps mixture and make sure it is well coated. Press down on it a bit, to make sure it’s really on there.
  10. Set the nugget on the clean plate and repeat the process with all of the tenders. Your hands will get gross. You can put forks in each bowl and pass them around that way. But it’s messy work and oh so worth it.
  11. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-ish heat in the largest skillet you own.
  12. Test the temperature with one nugget. There should be a sizzle when you set it in the pan. If not, you need more heat. If, conversely, your oil/butter is starting to turn brown, you’re too hot. I find that I adjust the temp as I go, lowering and heating as needed.
  13. Make sure you don’t crowd the pan with too many nuggets at a time, you’re going to need to work in batches.
  14. Should take about 2 minutes per side to get a nice bronze. No matter how fastidious you are with cutting the chicken, there are always outliers that are too thin or too fat. Give them less or more time than the others. I often say we don’t want George Hamilton bronze when I’m baking, but we do here. Bring on the spray-tan. After 2 minutes on one side, use tongs to flip and give the other side 2 minutes, for a total of 4 minutes cook time. This is an estimate…I’m not there with your heat and I can’t see the girth of your nuggets, so perhaps test one to make sure your heat and timing are correct.
  15. As you finish cooking the nuggets, put them on a cooling rake while you finish the rest of the tenders.
  16. While they are still hot, fresh out of the pan, give them a final salt flourish. I am not totally OCD about salting, but when it comes to chocolate and chicken, I am. So don’t be shy.
  17. Taste the first one. How’s the flavor? Now dip in your sauces. How’s that? Do you need more salt? Pepper? You all good? Good.
  18. If at any point your butter-oil combo starts to look or smell burnt, turn down the heat a hair and clean out the pan with a paper towel. Put in fresh oil and butter and finish frying up them tenders girl!
  19. Whew. Done. Yummy, right?!?

crispy + healthy-ish chicken nuggets | displacedhousewife

{ on my mind }

  • I was thumbing through my recipe book that looks like a pre-schooler put it together, madly trying to find Xiao Zhang’s chicken nuggets recipe, written in Mandarin characters. I couldn’t find it…but I know it’s in there. But I did find an email I had sent to my mom, dad and cousin (remember Bubbie?) when I was living in Beijing about the best white cake ever. They all had to try it. The final sentence in the email said: “It’s yummy, light and fluffy. [The person formally known as my spouse] has been working on a project this week..late nights. I’m so bored. Eating cake by myself at 9 PM…Tootaloo!” Just a little more insight into my life as an expat, in the PRC, the early days… xx

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