Recipe: Chicken nuggets & beans


Having moved on from perfecting my grilled cheese, I have a new food obsession: Southern fried chicken.  To be honest, it is something I have thought about for a while, but have always skipped making it on account of not having a deep fat fryer (and generally not wanting to deep fry things).  However, last weekend, I was planning on making some baked beans with my older boy and suddenly thought maybe we should also make some chicken nuggets. I then thought, why not make chicken nuggets but trying to get a similar taste/texture to southern fried chicken?



Now, there are two elements to the experiment:
  1. Making up a recipe for the batter/seasoning

  2. Finding the best non-deep frying alternatives

Plus, there's the baked beans.


KFC style chicken nuggets

I guess I should clarify that the title is probably more aspirational (kind of anyway, really we are aiming for much better than KFC, plus healthier) - also, as mentioned above, we were free-styling with this one and will be a work in progress)

Ingredients

  • 400 grams chopped chicken breast
  • 300ml buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons cornmeal/polenta (can be swapped for flour)
  • 1 teaspoon mixed italian herbs (can be swapped for just one tablespoon of dried oregano, basil & thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying (if you are frying)


Method

  1. Leave the chicken to rest in a bowl with the buttermilk - I put mine in the buttermilk first thing in the morning before cooking in the evening, but if you don't have time then just stick them in the buttermilk whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients

  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in another bowl, add a tablespoon of the buttermilk to the dry mix and stir through - this is to achieve that nobbly type texture that you often get on KFC (see the picture above of the coated chicken), and I got this tip from Kenji at the FoodLab (although also apparently a known technique) - the alternative technique suggested to achieve this effect is to double-dip the chicken (buttermilk, roll in batter, dip in buttermilk then back in the batter).

  3. Cook the chicken - I tried both shallow frying and oven baking:

    Shallow fry - This was the first approach I tried, the problem was I was too conservative with the oil, and the chicken was sticking to the pan a bit, which resulted in a lot of the batter falling off every time I had to scrape it up to turn over.  I think the recommended amount is about one inch of oil.  The chicken tasted good, and the batter had a good oil-y texture, but  still seemed too fried for me.

    Oven bake - The second half of the batch went on a very lightly oiled baking tray in the oven, at about 180degrees (fan oven), cook until the chicken is cooked (I think it was probably about 20 minutes for me).  The batter remained intact, and the seasoned batter tasted good, but it wasn't the texture (or appearance) of fried chicken.
It largely tasted pretty good, and went down well, but in my opinion it needs a few tweaks:
  • It tasted too oregano-y - I will keep some Italian herbs in the mix, but probably reduce it
  • There wasn't enough black pepper.  Pepper is a big part of normal KFC type seasoning, and whilst I didn't want to replicate it completely, it needed more

My next experiment will be an updated batter, used with chicken legs but cooked on the BBQ - The BBQ seems to be pretty good at keeping chicken legs juicy, which I am hoping will provide more moisture to the batter without needing a tonne of oil.


Baked beans 

In our house, we actually call these "tomato beans" - because if you are familiar with "Reasons my kid is crying", we feared that if we called them baked beans, and then the boys ate them, they may take a grievance with the fact that they aren't actually the baked beans they might expect.

And honestly, there isn't really any recipe/reason to this one. Its just tomatoes and beans, then anything we decide to throw in.  But here is more or less what we put in the last batch (which went down well, including with my wife - which made me think they would actually go down well as a side at our next BBQ):


Ingredients

  • 400 gram tin of tomatoes (preferably whole, but doesn't matter)
  • 400 gram tin haricot beans
  • punch of sugar
  • smoked sweet paprika
  • dash of balsamic vinegar
  • tomato purée
  • squirt tomato ketchup (optional - this is just for fun)
  • any other spices/herbs you want

Method

  1. First step is what we call "messy hands" - jam the tomatoes into a bowl and squash them all up (this is why we use whole tomatoes - its more fun for the boy to squash them)

  2. Add the rest of the ingredients - this is a fun one to cook just because its all done by taste really, and the boy gets to taste the ingredients as we add them in and taste the work in progress as we go

  3. Purée the tomato sauce in a blender/food processor

  4. Add the tomato and beans to a pan, simmer on the hob until heated through
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen