Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lesser Evil: Chicken Nuggets

Ew. I don't like that. Gross. Throw it out the window.

Yes, my lovely and loving children have said all these things to my dinners, and I to their preferences. This is of course the universal parent-child discourse, and in our house like many others they are fighting words, tactics that lead to escalation (que the spilled water) and worse. I try to avoid the confrontation, but it sometimes is impossible, especially if they have a very specific idea of what's for dinner tonight. Often, I am left to choose the lesser of several evils, in an effort to compromise what they enjoy eating with what I can live with preparing.

Given the above, let's talk nuggets. Chicken nuggets are tasty, easy to prepare, and 100% junk food. If you can live with that, more to you. I break them out on rare occasions, such as the long road trip with nothing but McDonalds in sight, or those nights when I have to suddenly work late and cannot possibly scramble dinner in time. Once in a while they are fine, but just understand that they are not really food per se. They are food products. Parts are not just parts.

A good alternative that seems to work for all is chicken tenders. A lesser evil, the tender is an actual part of the chicken breast, and therefore real as all get out. Chicken nuggets are to chicken tenders particle board as is to solid oak. You can buy pre-prepared chicken tenders, which are not necessarily the highest quality chicken, but a step above the nuggets. Even better, you can purchase the raw meat and make them yourselves, in under 10 minutes. They are my preferred lesser evil, and actually are enjoyed by all parties in the house, with no whining and the occasional, "mmm..good. Can I have some ice cream?"

Here are some options to lessen the evil:
  • Use grass fed, pasture raised chicken. It is better for you, and more humanely raised. Be prepared to be be poor for a few weeks though.
  • Skip the supermarket butcher and cut the tenders yourself. If you buy boneless, skinless, whole breasts, the tender is easily removed and used for this recipe. It's the side piece that kind of flops down over the larger breast. Often, I make tenders for the kids and use the breasts for grown-up recipes. Alternatively, make a big batch by cutting the breasts lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips.
  • Use real bread crumbs. Take some bread, cut it up, throw it in the food processor, and viola..bread crumbs a la Noonie.
  • Use a neutral fat like grapeseed oil to prepare this dish.
There are a lot of recipes out there for these tenders. Below is one that has worked for my family - give it a shot and see how the peeps respond. You'll know if its working by the glorious semi-silence that comes from those distinct, discreet eating noises at the dinner table. Happy sounds? You betcha. Enjoy every bite.

Breaded Chicken Tenders
3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 cup flour
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
3 - 4 tbsp + 1 tbsp grapeseed oil

  1. Place flour, salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you like into a ziplock bag. Add chicken and shake to coat.
  2. Place breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix in 1 tbsp oil
  3. Dip each piece of chicken in the egg, and then coat with breadcrumb mixture.
  4. Add remaining oil to a skillet and heat on medium-high. Fry each piece of chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until cooked.
  5. Cool on a rack and serve shortly after with duck sauce, honey mustard, or whatever you have in the house.

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