Ok, I’ve been putting off this challenge way too long. First, I put off making it — illness and holidays got in the way — and then I put off writing about it.
To tell you the truth, a meal of homemade chicken nuggets and fries was not one I was looking forward to making. I think of this as typical restaurant kid’s food, not a meal I would likely order for myself. I don’t even like to order it for my kid, although sometimes choices are limited. Since this isn’t a meal I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat, I didn’t think it was one I would enjoy making either. But I was challenged to make it, and I did.
I don’t ever deep-fry at home. My rationale is that deep-frying is unhealthy, messy and expensive when you consider how much oil is required. And it’s very easy (all too easy) to find good-tasting deep-fried foods when we go out to eat. It just doesn’t fit into what I consider good home cooking.
So I didn’t want to deep-fry either the nuggets or the “fries.” For the nuggets, after researching many different recipes, I decided to take a combination approach. I shallow-fried them for a few minutes to get the breading crispy, then transferred them to the oven to finish cooking.
Based on the recipes I read, it seemed that the best results came from soaking the chicken first in buttermilk, then rolling it in a hearty coating (heartier than flour), such as cracker or bread crumbs. I chose panko bread crumbs, which I spiced up quite a bit with paprika, cayenne and salt. I cut boneless chicken breasts into approximate nugget size before letting them soak in the buttermilk for a few hours. Then I rolled them in the coating and shallow-fried them in vegetable oil just until the coating browned. I transferred them to a baking sheet to finish cooking at about 425 degrees.
The nuggets were crispy, but certainly not as crispy or as yummy as their deep-fried counterparts would be. (I said I don’t like to deep-fry at home, but there’s no denying that deep-fried foods taste very good.) The breading had a tendency to slide off, too. I think the extra spices were essential. Otherwise, the dish would have been rather bland.
I added two dipping sauces to help with the blandness factor. One was a simple honey-mustard sauce: two parts mustard whisked with one part honey. The other was lemon juice whisked with a little olive oil, Italian seasonings and plenty of grated Parmesan. I actually liked the second sauce better with the crudites (raw broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes and celery) that I served with the chicken, but my husband preferred it on the nuggets.
Now for the fries. I decided to try “oven-frying” them two different ways. I cooked both batches for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees.
For one set of fries, I used peeled Yukon gold potatoes. I cut them into wedge shapes and sprinkled them with a little oil, salt and some sugar. This was based on a recipe I found online, and I think the intention was to mimic the look of French fries. The potatoes did turn spotty brown where the sugar caramelized, but they didn’t taste at all fried; they tasted sweet. My husband liked them, but I didn’t.
For the other batch of oven fries, I used unpeeled russet potatoes. I tossed them with a bit more oil, coarse salt, paprika and cayenne. Again, these didn’t taste fried, although they more closely resembled the thick-cut steak fries that you find at some up-scale restaurants. I liked them a lot better, though.
For me, this meal rated about a C. I doubt I would make it again unless it was requested, although I would make the oven fries to serve with other dishes. My husband rated it a B+/A-. He was disappointed that I didn’t make more dipping sauces, particularly a barbecue sauce. My toddler declined to eat any of it at all. I guess it’s not real chicken nuggets and fries when your mom makes it.
I haven’t received this week’s challenge yet, so stay tuned. Also, now that the recent spate of holidays has passed, I promise to get back on a weekly cooking and posting schedule, at least for a while.