You'll never think of chicken nuggets in the same way after spending hours making these crunchy beauties.
This is a recipe that should be followed closely. For example, if you don't compress the breast and thigh logs tightly, you'll waste much of your pureed chicken binder trying to "glue" the wayward pieces into a workable ball. Pay close attention to poaching temperatures, too, and make sure to have plenty of ice on hand. The water temperature is difficult to maintain at the recommended range; you might need to devise your own method of removing overheated water and replacing it with cool tap water if you run out of ice. It's best to have a clip-on thermometer or to take constant readings with an instant-read digital thermometer.
After poaching, the log of breast meat turns a beautiful shade of pink, but that color can quickly disappear during the final deep-frying phase. Here, the pieces are cut slightly smaller than in Richard's original recipe. In the end, nuggets at this size may yield more servings.
Are these nuggets worth all the work? Certainly, if you have guests to impress.
Make Ahead: The logs of chicken need to be refrigerated for at least several hours and up to a day in advance. The moist coating for the nuggets can be prepared and refrigerated a day in advance. The nuggets are best eaten the same day they are made.
Servings: 36 nuggets
- 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (24 ounces total), trimmed of all fat
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 12 ounces total), trimmed of all fat
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Leaves from 4 sprigs thyme, finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
- 6 ounces day-old italian bread or country bread, crusts removed
- 1 large egg white
- About 5 cups canola or peanut oil, for deep-frying
- 1 to 3 teaspoons whole or low-fat milk (optional)
Detach the chicken tender from the underside of each chicken breast half. Use a paring knife to remove and discard the piece of sinew that runs the length of the tender. Cut the thin, pointed end from each breast and add those pieces to the tenders.
The tenders and trimmings will be used as the binder; cut them into 1-inch pieces. There should be 1 cup. If there is less, add enough cut-up breast meat to yield 1 cup.
Season both sides of the trimmed chicken breast halves and the thighs generously with salt, pepper and about half of the thyme.
To roll the thighs into a log, lightly moisten the work surface to anchor the plastic wrap, and lay out a 2-foot-long piece of the wrap with a short end facing you. Arrange the thighs end to end on the plastic, parallel to the bottom, starting about 4 inches from the bottom edge. Pull the wrap from the bottom up and over the thighs, pressing it against the surface of the meat. Slowly roll up the chicken in the plastic wrap, being careful not to catch the wrap in the chicken and pinching in the sides from time to time to keep the roll as compact as possible. Twist both ends of the roll and tie tightly with kitchen twine, forming a compact log. Trim the ends of the plastic wrap; this will keep water from collecting when the chicken is poached. Repeat with the chicken breast halves, laying them end to end, with the trimmed ends overlapping. Refrigerate the logs for at least several hours or up to a day.
Tear the bread into pieces and place them in a food processor. Pulse to form irregular crumbs, the largest of which should be no larger than 1/4 inch; do not overprocess. You should have a scant 2 cups. Transfer to a wide, shallow bowl.
Combine the cup of chicken trimmings and the egg white in a blender or mini food processor; puree until smooth, then transfer to a bowl. Whisk in a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until ready to use, or for up to a day.
To cook the chicken, fill a large pot with water; using a large pot will make it easier to maintain the proper poaching-water temperature. Clip a thermometer to the side of the pot, or have an instant-read digital thermometer at hand.
Heat the water to 160 degrees. It is important that the water temperature remain between 155 degrees and 160 degrees as the chicken cooks. Keep a large bowl of ice cubes next to the stove, and if the temperature climbs, add a few cubes to reduce the temperature quickly.
Place the thigh log, still wrapped in plastic, in the water and poach for 20 minutes, checking the water temperature often. If the chicken doesn’t remain under the surface of the water, wedge a wooden spoon in the pot to keep the roll submerged.
After 20 minutes, add the log of chicken breast meat; poach for 30 minutes. (The thigh log will have been poaching for a total of 50 minutes.)
Fill a large bowl with ice water.
Transfer the logs of chicken to the bowl of ice water to cool completely. If the thighs look undercooked, return them to the poaching water for a few more minutes.
Remove the logs from the ice water and wipe them dry.
Heat the canola or peanut oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile, unwrap the log of poached chicken thighs. Cut it crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Cut the log of poached chicken breast halves in lengthwise in half, then cut each half crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. You should have about 36 pieces.
Remove the chicken puree from the refrigerator; whisk it so it has the consistency of mayonnaise. If it is too thick, add enough milk to make it spreadable.
Line a baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels, then place a wire cooling rack over them. Use paper towels to dry the chicken pieces. Have the bowl of bread crumbs at hand.
Use your hands or a brush to coat each chicken nugget generously with the chicken puree, then roll in the bread crumbs, pressing so the crumbs adhere. Fry about 6 nuggets at time, for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until golden brown and crisped. Use a slotted spoon or Chinese skimmer to transfer them to the wire rack to cool. Sprinkle immediately with the remaining chopped thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Serve while they are hot.
Repeat to use all of the chicken and puree.
Adapted from Richard's "Happy in the Kitchen" (Artisan, 2006).
Tested by Tim Carman.
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