Eric Akis: Bring your nuggets home

Eric Akis

A story by Matthew Diebel in last week’s Times Colonist talked about the health risks of eating ultra-processed foods. Diebel cited a European study and described those foods as being produced in factories with ingredients not found in home kitchens.

Packaged foods in this category usually have a long list of additives, flavourings and preservatives and are often high in sugar, fat and salt. Foods noted included TV dinners, instantnoodles and chicken nuggets, which Diebel described as containing “that strange white stuff in the middle that does not much resemble chicken.”

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When I read his line about chicken nuggets, two things came to mind.

The first was the term “seasoned chicken,” which companies can legally use to describe some chicken products. It’s a confusing term for the consumer, who might be led to believe “seasoned” means flavourings such as herbs and spices. But it can mean water and salt. Why?

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website, inspection.gc.ca, the term “seasoned,” used in conjunction with the product’s name, is acceptable as a descriptor when phosphate salts, phosphate salts and water, or spices and/or salt and water have been added to solid cuts of chicken.

Seasoned chicken, thanks to being bloated with salted water, has an odd, almost spongy texture, is less expensive and is used by many fast-food restaurants. Seasoned chicken, including cuts such as breast and wings, is also sold at supermarkets, most often frozen.

The second thing that came to mind when reading Diebel’s story was that if you make your own chicken nuggets, you can control the ingredients you use, including the chicken.

If you are keen to do that, below are two recipes for you to try.

One is a more traditional in style. The nuggets are coated with flavoured breadcrumbs and shallow-fried until golden and delicious. The nuggets only spend a short while in the hot oil and are drained on paper towels, so they don’t absorb too much of the oil.

My second recipe is more modern and sees pieces of chicken breast coated with panko, quinoa flakes and chia and sesame seeds. Rather than fry them, I baked them until light golden and tasty.

The chicken nuggets are easy to make and your kids or grandkids could help you coat them. They could also help you make the chicken nugget dipping sauces.

Crispy Shallow-fried Chicken Nuggets 

These nuggets of boneless chicken breast are coated in lightly seasoned breadcrumbs and shallow-fried until golden.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: 24 nuggets

2 (250 to 275 gram) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup dried breadcrumbs

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp ground sage

1/4 tsp paprika

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp milk

1 cup vegetable oil

Cut each chicken breast into 12 roughly 1 1/2-inch long, 1-inch wide and 1-inch thick nuggets. Combine the breadcrumbs, garlic powder, sage, paprika, salt and pepper in a sided dish. Place the flour in a second dish and the egg/milk mixture in a third.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Dip floured chicken in the egg mixture, ensuring each piece is thoroughly coated. Now coat chicken in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing it on to help it adhere. Set coated pieces of chicken on one of the baking sheets as you go along.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (mine was 10 inches wide) set over medium to medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

When oil is hot, add eight chicken nuggets to the pan and cook 90 seconds to two minutes on each side, until golden and just cooked through. Lift nuggets out of the pan, drain on paper towel and then set on the second baking sheet. Fry the remaining nuggets, eight at a time, as you did the first batch, and set them on the second baking sheet as well.

Set the pan of nuggets in the oven five minutes, until all are very hot, and then serve.

Eric’s options: After frying the nuggets and setting them on the baking sheet, you could cool them to room temperature and then freeze them. Now transfer to freezer bags and keep frozen until needed.

When needed, set the nuggets you want to cook on a baking sheet. Bake, from frozen, at 375 F for 20 minutes, or until heated through.

Baked Chicken Nuggets with Panko, Quinoa, Chia and Sesame

Combine crunchy panko, Japanese-style breadcrumbs with nutrient-rich quinoa, chia seeds and sesame seeds to make the coating for these tasty nuggets.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: 24 nuggets

1/2 cup quinoa flakes (see Note)

1/2 cup regular or whole wheat panko

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

2 tsp chia seeds

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp ground sage

1/4 tsp paprika

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 Tbsp regular or light mayonnaise

2 (250 to 275 gram) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a shallow-sided dish, such as a pieplate, combine quinoa flakes, panko, sesame seeds, chia seeds, garlic powder, sage, paprika, salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the paper with the vegetable oil.

Place the mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Cut each chicken breast into 12 roughly 1 1/2-inch long, 1-inch wide and 1-inch thick nuggets. Set nuggets in the bowl and toss to coat each piece with mayonnaise. Now coat each nugget in the panko/quinoa mixture, packing it on. Set the chicken nuggets on the baking sheet.

Bake chicken nuggets 10 minutes, and then turn each one over. Bake 10 minutes more, or until nuggets are light golden and cooked through.

Note: Quinoa flakes are thinly rolled pieces of quinoa, similar to rolled oats in style. They are sold in the bulk food section of some supermarkets and at bulk food stores.

Eric’s options: You can coat the nuggets and put them on the baking sheet hours before cooking them.

Cover and keep them refrigerated until ready to bake. If you do that, you may need to add a couple of minutes to the baking time as the pan and chicken will be quite cold.

Three Simple Dips for Chicken Nuggets

Below are three easy dips to serve with chicken nuggets that might use ingredients you already have on hand.

Preparation time: a few minutes for each dip

Cooking time: None

Makes: About 2/3 to 1cup

For honey mustard dip:

1/4 cup Dijon mustard, or to taste

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp honey

• pinch cayenne pepper or paprika

For sweet and sour dip:

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp rice or cider vinegar

2 tsp honey

For avocado lime dip:

1 small to medium ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed.

1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

2 Tbsp lime juice

• salt and hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste

To make the honey mustard and sweet and sour dips, simply combine their ingredients in separate small bowls. To make the avocado lime dip, place its ingredients in a small food processor or cup that came with your immersion (hand) blender, and blend them until smooth.

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