I’ve made chicken nuggets before. Never like this!
You know, ostensibly this is a blog about the food I make for my kids. Truth be told, though, I love “kid food.” Corn dogs and pigs-in-a-blanket are my top favorite foods. Chicken nuggets (good chicken nuggets) are pretty high on that list. I’m that guy who, despite being a grown man, will go to a restaurant and order chicken tenders. So when my wife Michelle suggested trying to come up with a chicken nugget recipe that would be Reese-safe, I jumped at it. I had to start things the night before, though. I mean, after all, today was Free Comic Book Day! I couldn’t miss out on that!
I did a search online to get a starting point. I’ve made chicken nuggets before, but it’s been a while, so I figured I should get some ideas. I found one of the weirdest suggestions I’ve ever heard for frying chicken, so I had to try it. That suggestion? Pickle juice. According to a blog post from Jen at Cincy Shopper, pickle juice is the key ingredient to making chicken nuggets. Sure, why not?
The best nuggets (in my opinion) are the ones that aren’t actually nuggets, but are more like “popcorn chicken.” I don’t like oddly processed, weird shapes (I’m looking at you, chicken patties and dinosaur nuggets). I want chicken. Michelle had thawed out some chicken for some reason. I don’t know what the reason was. But the chicken was repurposed into our nuggets. I took the chicken breasts and cut them into small (approximately 1″ squareish) pieces.
Then comes the pickle juice. Seriously, before you gross out, think about it. Pickle juice isn’t actually a juice; it’s a brine comprised of vinegar, salt, and various spices. In other words, it’s a tenderizing marinade. The kind you can use to make sure chicken breast (a notoriously flavorless and dry piece of meat) stays tender and juicy when cooked. Seriously, just try it before you pass judgement. I am a true believer! I marinated the chicken pieces in pickle juice for about 5 hours.
The next surprise comes in the breading. Flour, pepper, salt, paprika… all pretty standard. Powdered sugar? Not so much. But at I figured, hey, I already have a pound of cut up chicken sitting in a ziploc bag of pickle juice. What do I have to lose?
Reese can’t have eggs or dairy, so the standard buttermilk and egg for fried chicken is out. But what about coconut yogurt? I’ve done chicken tenders with yogurt before, so this could work. Make sure you get the plain, unsweetened kind. Anything else would be…. weird. Although, there is a fair amount of pickle juice happening….
I only ended up using one of those containers. Drain out the pickle juice, stir the chicken into the yogurt in a mixing bowl. The drain out the excess yogurt (I used a colander). Put all the chicken pieces into the flour mixture, zip it up, and shake until well coated.
Now, I’m no expert on frying things. I get really impatient, and I’m bad at temperature management. This turned out pretty well, though. I put one piece in the hot oil just to check, and it turned out just right. So on with the rest! Fry until crispy, golden-brown, and delicious. Using a spider strainer, tongs, or any other thing you’ve got, evacuate the chicken to a paper towel lined tray.
They turned out to be excellent! Michelle says she could taste a hint of pickle, but I ate at least 15 nuggets and never could. They were well-seasoned, tender, perfectly bite-sized. The real test, though, came when I handed them to the kids. The next thing I knew, the girls were bringing me their empty plates asking for more. They were a big hit.
I’m pretty sure Emily (who is the only one with no food restrictions) asked about 4 more times throughout the day for more chicken. We followed that up with reading our free comics. It was a good day!
BONUS: I can’t have nuggets without dip. So I figured I’d come up with one. I love Chick-fil-a’s sauce, so I thought I would try to take a crack at that. I don’t think this is an exact copy, but it was still really good. Barbecue sauce, vegan mayo, mustard, and honey is all it takes to make a delicious dipping sauce for these homemade nuggets (or french fries, or anything else that needs to be dipped in deliciousness).
This recipe is modified from a post from Cincy Shopper
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1 cup pickle juice
- 1 individual serving of unsweetened coconut yogurt
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp powdered sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1½ tsp ground pepper
- ½ tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika, but any can be used)
- Oil for deep-frying
- Cut up chicken into 1″ square pieces. Marinate the pieces in pickle juice for at least 4 hours.
- On the stove top, heat a few inches of oil in a pot or pan to 375.
- Mix the flour, powdered sugar, salt, pepper, and paprika together in a gallon-sized zip-top bag.
- Drain the chicken. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together with coconut yogurt.
- Shake off excess yogurt and place chicken into the bag with the flour mixture. Shake until well coated.
- Carefully place the coated chicken into the hot oil in small batches. Fry for 4-5 minutes or until crispy and golden. Remove from the hot oil and drain on paper towels.
Dipping Sauce (all measurements approximate)
- 1/4 cup vegan mayo (eg. Just Mayo)
- 2 tbsp barbecue sauce
- 1 tsp mustard
- 1 tsp honey
Stir all ingredients until well-combined, adjusting amounts to taste.