Update: Please note that I’ve improved upon this recipe – check out the new version here.
Over the past few weeks we’ve spent a fair amount of time out in town, shopping for gifts, and we have often found ourselves away from the house with no lunch plans. Chipotle is our emergency standby, but sometimes we’re tempted to grab Chick-fil-A since they’re everywhere (there are 30 of them within 20 miles of our house!). But as Melissa at Hunt.Gather.Love. points out, regardless of how you feel about Chick-fil-A’s stance on current social issues, the quality of their food alone should be enough to boycott the restaurant chain. For example, let’s take a look at the ingredients list for their nuggets:
100% natural whole breast filet, seasoning (salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, spices, paprika), seasoned coater (enriched bleached flour [bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, nonfat milk, leavening [baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate], spice, soybean oil, color [paprika]), milk wash (water, egg, nonfat milk), peanut oil (fully refined peanut oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and Dimethylpolysiloxane an anti-foaming agent added).
So I set out to recreate these chicken nuggets, and most importantly, reduce the ingredients list of this dish from 30+ ingredients down to 10 with minimal compromise on taste.
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup dill pickle juice
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp buttermilk or cream (coconut milk okay)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (potato or arrowroot starch okay)
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp each salt and black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 dash ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup lard or coconut oil for frying
Step one: cut up your chicken into 1″ chunks. Place the chicken chunks in a resealable plastic bag and add the pickle juice; marinate in the fridge for an hour.
After an hour, open the bag and pour out any excess pickle juice. It doesn’t have to be perfectly drained, just not totally juicy. Add the beaten egg and the buttermilk/cream, and mix together, then let sit for five minutes. Again, open the bag and pour out the excess liquid, if there is any. Texture is important at this point – the pieces should be wet but not swimming in a soup of pickle/egg/creamy goodness.
Prep your dry ingredients by stirring them all together.
Add the dry ingredients and mix them together in the bag, by a combination of shaking, rubbing, and pleading. It’ll take a few minutes, so this is a good time to warm up your skillet of lard/oil on medium heat.
Fry your chicken pieces, flipping every few minutes, until nice and golden brown. It should take about six to eight minutes per batch. Don’t overcrowd the skillet; it took me four batches to cook all two pounds of chicken. Use a splatter screen if you have one. Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels as you cook the others, and keep them warm in the oven at 170 degrees.
Update: You can bake these nuggets. They aren’t quite as crispy, but are a breeze to cook and taste great. To do so, arrange the breaded nuggets on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes, then flip and bake for another 5 minutes, then broil for 2 minutes or until golden.
Serve with a dipping sauce like my barbecue sauce, or maybe some honey mustard.