ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Buttermilk Popcorn Chicken,” from Cookin’ for Trouble, by Nadia G.*
TIMING: 20 minutes, after you have soaked the chicken
DIFFICULTY: Easier than you might think, but more difficult than warming up frozen ones
TOOLS: A non-stick or cast iron skillet or sauce pan, heat-proof tongs, a deep-fry thermometer, slotted spoon or spider, and some other basic things
COOK TYPE: Stove top. Frying
HEALTH: I don’t think anyone is going to accuse chicken nuggets of being a health food. On the other hand, making your chicken nuggets can save you from a giant health mistake (full of MSG, additives, fillers, rancid oils, etc. etc.) and land you securely in the yes-its-fatty-but-I-mostly-controlled-the-outcome territory. With quality ingredients, you (and your kids) too can have chicken nuggets. Sometimes.
EXPERIENCE: I have said before that my daughter does not like chicken. Although, if you ask her yourself, she’ll say, “I don’t like chicken, except Chick Fil A.” And while–thanks to the MSG–I can’t touch Chick Fil A’s chicken with a ten foot pole (and wouldn’t often, due to its fast food-related issues)–I understand the sentiment.
As often happens at the grocery store, I feel trapped into buying chicken anyways, because it is one of the more affordable, healthy proteins. This time, though, I splurged for the chicken breasts because my husband is such a fan of the whiter white meats. So I stood in the kitchen with the package of breast meat in my hands and I called for my daughter. Then I asked, “What could I do to this chicken to make you eat it, tonight?”
With a grimace, “Chicken nuggets.”
So I set down the meat and wandered to my cookbook cabinet. (Yes, I have one of those.) I ignored all the vegetarian and dessert books and eventually zeroed in in a cookbook I have not yet used since I inherited it from someone who was recently paring down their book collection: Cookin’ for Trouble. Besides that I hate the cover and the cuss words involved, the recipes look Guy Fieri-like fantastic.
Said daughter then wandered back in the room and offered to help make the nuggets. (FYI, it almost always helps kids eat more–and more adventurously–when they help make it.) So in a relatively short time, I had a pile of nuggets which turned out to be a family hit. And why hadn’t I thought of serving them with maple syrup before?
NOTES: The original recipe calls for deep-frying the nuggets, which would mean covering the bottom of your pan in at least a couple inches of oil. I am ridiculously opposed to filling pans with the healthful (expensive) oils that I stock. Therefore, this is my version–which worked just fine–of a cross between deep- and pan-frying.
- Ahead of time, cut 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into small nugget-sized pieces. Throw them in a bowl, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, and cover with 1 cup buttermilk. Cover the bowl and set in the fridge for 1-8 hours.
- In either a large zipper bag or a mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, and optional 1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper.
- Remove half the chicken from the buttermilk with a slotted spoon or spider. Give it a shake, then place it in the flour mixture. Either close the bag and shake well or toss well. Set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauce pan (cast iron or non-stick), heat 1/2 inch safflower oil over medium to medium-high heat until thermometer reads 350F.
- Remove one nugget from the flour with heat-proof tongs and shake to remove excess batter. Place it in the pan and repeat for the rest of the nuggets–just until the pan is full but not over-crowded–moving quickly. When the first side of your first nugget has browned well, turn it over and repeat again, making sure both sides are brown.
- Remove 1 nugget from the oil and cut in half to make sure your chicken is cooking through. When satisfied, remove the rest of the nuggets to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat process for second half of chicken, allowing the oil to come back to temperature.
Serve with a trio of dipping sauces: BBQ, maple syrup, and honey mustard (which you can make by mixing equal parts honey and brown mustard. Simples). Then accompany with a kid-friendly veggie and a kid-friendly grain. Dinner!
*Recipe changed from the original.