homemade chicken nuggets

Fast Food Slow: Homemade Chicken Nuggets

December 14, 2009 · 45 comments

I was overwhelmed by the response to my homemade Big Macs. Seems people are quite intrigued by the notion of preparing fast food, slow…

And so, consider this a series. With part two being homemade chicken nuggets with honey mustard sauce.

Was it Morgan Spurlock who asked, “Which part of the chicken is the nugget?” Really, where is the nugget? It’s not a breast, a wing, a thigh, or any other body part we can point to or throw on a roasting rack. Mcdonald’s uses white boneless chicken to make their nuggets. But they also use tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is sprayed on the nugget to help preserve freshness. I learned that little nugget from Michael Pollan’s The Ominvore’s Dilemma. You can read the rest of the strange-sounding ingredients right on Mcdonald’s website.

When I was an awkward girl of 12, I would get home from school and slide Purdue chicken nuggets into the oven to hold me over until dinner. I can smell the chicken now as I write this. Salty and greasy, like French fries. Just what a pre-pubescent girl needed post after-school gymnastic practice.

chicken hole

Now when I shop for chickens I look for whole, organic chickens that were raised nearby. Following that standard, the chicken that made it into my nuggets was from Mary’s Farm in San Joaquin Valley. Mary’s chickens are fed a vegetarian diet, and are free from hormones and antibiotics.

I didn’t want to roast the chicken, because crisp skin wasn’t necessary for making nuggets. I turned to Cook’s Illusrated for a technique for cooking a super juicy bird without crisping the skin. The chicken went into a dutch oven after I browned it for a few minutes, and with no added fats besides a splash of olive oil, I baked it at a low temperature for a little over an hour. Then I de-skinned, shredded and even threw some in the food processor before battering and frying. Pulse the chicken slowly in the processor, or you’ll end up with chicken goop instead of finely chopped pieces of meat.

My first batch was all white meat, and it was good, but not great. My next batch I mixed white meat with shredded dark meat, and it was exactly the nugget I wanted. Light, feathery, full of flavor, without even the faint aroma of tertiary butylhydroquinone.

Which fast food favorites would you like to slow down? Let me know and help me choose something for part three of Fast Food Slow, coming up later in the week.

chicken nuggets 3

Give it a Stumble: 

Homemade Chicken Nuggets
(makes about 30 nuggets)

4 ½ pound organic chicken
1 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon baking soda
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Dijon Mustard
Peanut oil
Fleur de sel

(Adapted Cook’s Illustrated ‘French Chicken in a Pot’)
Wash and pat your chicken dry. Season with salt and pepper inside and out. Preheat your oven to 250F and adjust your rack to the lowest position.

Heat up 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast iron Dutch oven, on medium-high heat. Place chicken in the pot breast-side down and brown for 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and brown for another 5 minutes (to flip the chicken, stick a wooden spoon in the cavity of the chicken).

Cover the Dutch oven with foil, and place the lid on top. Cook for 80 minutes in the oven.

whole chicken

Let the chicken rest for 20 minutes. Remove and discard skin. Shred chicken, keeping the white meat separate from the dark meat. Reserve juices at the bottom of the pot.

Put the white meat in a food processor with one beaten egg. Pulse a few times, but be careful not to over process the meat. It should be small, but not pureed.

Cut the dark meat into small pieces, and combine with the white meat in a large bowl. Season with salt, pepper and about ¼ cup of juices from the chicken. Add a tad more juice if chicken is too dry.

Beat together buttermilk and egg in a small bowl. In another small bowl, combine baking soda, flour, 1 tablespoon paprika and a pinch of salt.

Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of chicken and roll into a ball. Cover in flour, then buttermilk, then flour again. Flatten ball with the back of a fork to form a nugget. Repeat with remaining chicken. You should have about 30 nuggets.

Heat about 1 ½ inches of peanut oil. Fry nuggets in hot oil for only about 30 seconds per side. I love frying in my Dutch oven. It prevents splatters and the heavy pot helps the oil stay hot. Don’t crowd the nuggets in the pan – they shouldn’t touch.

Season with fleur de sel and serve with honey mustard.

Honey Mustard:
Combine honey with Dijon mustard at a ratio of 1:2 (1 part honey, 2 parts mustard). Stir until combined.

Where I Shopped:
Mary’s Organic Chicken: Magnani Butcher, Berkeley
Honey: Berkeley Farmers’ Market
Organic eggs: Downtown Oakland Farmers’ Market

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

GrilledShane December 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Wow, homemade chicken nuggets! Awesome and yummy (and healthy? haha)! I give you a lot of credit as I don’t think I could be that patient, but it sure looks like the time and effort paid off. Well done. And great photos, as usual.


Sara December 14, 2009 at 8:58 pm

What a great series idea!


SippitySup December 14, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Finally fast food worth waiting for! GREG


Hollowpeas December 14, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Mc Rib? No, just kidding.

Those look REALLY good though. I think finishing the meal with some perfect french fries might be good :-)


Gastronomer December 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm

How about a McDonald’s apple pie?

Great post, Allison!


MsGourmet December 15, 2009 at 3:55 am

LO you’ll need a reworked ‘fast food’ repertoire once you have kids Allison! You can add pizza, fish & chips, potato wedges, Gyros and Shawarma to you list :D


Jessica @ How Sweet It Is December 15, 2009 at 3:55 am

These look delicious! I’d love to try.


MsGourmet December 15, 2009 at 3:57 am

Excuse my spelling mistakes bella! I’m catching up on my favourite blogs, while wrapping the kids Christmas presents!


Marisa @All in Good Food December 15, 2009 at 5:08 am

Wow those look good. I haven’t tried cooking a whole chicken yet but I do cook my chicken breast in my crock pot and they come out juicy everytime. I have tried to do nuggets myself but they never quite came out with the right taste (only used breast meat) it makes since to use both light and dark meat. I’ll have to try your recipe. I don’t have any ideas at this time but I can’t wait till your next post. Love the Big Mac one by the way. ^_^


Maria December 15, 2009 at 9:14 am

My niece is going to love these! Great alternative to the fast food versions. SO much better!


Heather December 15, 2009 at 9:25 am

So funny I found this post as we were just talking about chicken nugget this weekend. I think we probably referred to them out of spite, but homemade ones? No spite there!


heather @ chiknpastry December 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

How ’bout a Bojangles “bo-berry” biscuit? or their dirty rice? Although… maybe you haven’t heard of bojangles since you’re in CA? If you make a bo berry biscuit i’ll be your bestest friend :)

either way – both this and the big mac look awesome. good call on the series!


Gina December 15, 2009 at 11:19 am

I can’t believe all the scary things that go into real fast-food! I love this recipe! How about a good recipe for non-McDonald’s hashbrowns?


Janet December 15, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Wow, yum! I used to love chicken nuggets, but am horrified by McDonald’s, and have been trying to get away from the soy kind I ate for years.

I like the McDonald’s hashbrown or mini apple pie suggestion!


Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen December 16, 2009 at 9:23 am

This is a really great series! I will enjoy whatever else you can come up with!


Linda December 16, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Awesome! These look amazingly good and I can’t wait to make them. Thanks :)


linda December 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Wonderful post, Thanks!

How about a healthy take on broasted breaded chicken pieces with bone, similar to Al-Baik or KFC?!


Mark in CA December 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Just had the most wonderful chicken karaage (Japanese chicken nuggets) at Himawari, 202 2nd Ave., San Mateo. Best I’ve ever had. (Don’t miss the ramen while there, too.)


Kelsey/TheNaptimeChef December 17, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I agree with you, I make our own chicken nuggets, too. So much fun and easy! Someone gave my daughter a McD’s nugget once and she actually spit it out – hurray!


Bianca @south bay rants n raves December 18, 2009 at 6:02 pm

This looks so tasty! Can’t wait to see what else you have in store!


Shannon (The Daily Balance) December 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm

i cannot believe i have gone this long without stumbling on your blog — SO GLAD I did! LOVE IT! ;)


Megan Gordon December 20, 2009 at 8:53 am

I’m absolutely loving this idea, Alison! It’s sheer brilliance and, more importantly, fun. I think a few of us are ashamed to say we may kind of miss the chicken nuggets of our childhood, but would never go near them now…never thought about recreating them in a more adult/health conscious way. Thanks for the RAD, thoughtful posts!


Alicia December 25, 2009 at 9:57 am

This is a great concept. I love love love it. The chicken nuggets and the Big Mac are both brilliant. I second the idea of the mc’d's hot apple pie (though I haven’t had one in years…) also, how about a Wendy’s frosty?

Kudos – I look forward to your next recipe!! I’ve added you to my feed reader!


Whitney January 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I LOVE chicken nuggets! I still order them from McDonald’s on the rare occasions that I go, I love them!!!! I am definitely making these before I ship off to Italy to get a little American food in :) thanks for the recipe!


Kitchen Butterfly January 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm

What a fantastic idea…..to make healthy fast food faves….superb!!!!!! Will have to try it out!


tnashaaa popcorn February 12, 2010 at 4:04 am

i love chicken nuggets


jas July 24, 2010 at 6:02 am

yum! I’m totally trying these!


PoohBear October 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I was so excited to find this recipe – my kids would never fall for bite-size pieces of chicken in breading masquerading as nuggets. BUT . . . what a disaster. The ground up chicken wouldn’t stay together – mostly just crumbled into my egg mixture and flour mixture. The few that made it to the frying pan mostly came out in one piece, but tasted like a greasy, bland, chicken burger. I feel like I must have missed something here. How do you make this work?


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