Chicken Parmesan Nuggets
Image by djwtwo
It started with the menu in the cafeteria at work, pointed out to me by a coworker: the “Fit Food” option for lunch was Chicken Parmesan. “Fit Food?!” Really? Even better, the listed nutrition data said the chicken (an entire fried, breaded half-breast, completely covered with cheese and marinara, atop linguini, with salad) was supposed to come in at 333 calories. I wasn’t buying it. A few of the folks I usually eat lunch with also noticed it, which led to a conversation at the lunch table that went something like this (names omitted to protect the guilty):
“Fit food? I know they use a weird criteria for it…”
“Yeah, something like percent of calories from fat, or total sodium or…”
“Maybe the serving size is about 1/10th of what’s on the plate?”
“So, the actual serving would be a chicken parmesan nugget?”
“A chicken parmesan nugget? Kind of a bastard child of a fried mozzarella stick and a chicken nugget, with marinara for dipping?”
“Don’t say that too loud, or I can see McDonalds’ next menu item.”
“Wait a minute… that might actually be tasty, if you started with decent cheese and chicken that wasn’t mechanically separated… hmm.”
And here we are. Dinner with a little hint of eeeevil (well, only a little.)
1 whole boneless skinless breast of chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
block of low-moisture mozzarella cheese
3/4 c flour
1 c panko bread crumbs
oil for frying (2-3 quarts)
Cut the chicken into 1” cubes, and place in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the salt, oregano, basil, marjoram, black pepper, and onion powder. Pulse until the chicken is a coarse paste (you should still have small, recognizable bits of chicken, not a purée).
Cut the mozzarella into chunks about 1”x1/4”x1/2”. Working with wet hands, take about 2 tablespoons of the chicken mixture and wrap it completely around a chunk of cheese. Make sure the chicken seals the cheese in completely, using a little extra chicken if you need to. Aim to keep the shape a flat oval, not meatball-shaped. Continue working until you’re out of chicken (I got about 20 largeish nuggets.)
Place your oil in a dutch oven or other heavy, deep pot. Be sure there’s at least 2" of distance from the oil to the top of the pot. Heat to 350°F. Set up a draining rig to remove the cooked nuggets to (I use a sheet pan with a double layer of paper towels, held down by an inverted cooling rack.
Lay out three bowls: one with the flour; one with the two eggs, beaten well; and one with the panko. Lightly dredge each nugget in the flour, tapping any excess off gently, coat with egg, then dredge again in the panko to coat completely.
Fry the nuggets 6-8 at a time in the 350°F oil, allowing the oil time to reheat between batches. Fry for 4-5 minutes per batch, turning occasionally, until golden brown, then transfer to the draining rig. Cool slightly before serving (or, in McD’ese – "Caution: Filling may be hot").
I served these with some pasta dressed in a little olive oil and butter, a cup of marinara sauce to dip the nuggets in, with a grating of fresh parmesan cheese and some thinly sliced basil.
(Oh, and: Shhhhhhh! These aren’t all that different from any number of croquetas. I’m thinking chicken cordon bleu might be a good variant.)
Photo-wise, I just shot these in the afternoon light (it’s so nice to be able to do that again…) coming into the dining room windows. I was torn between this shot showing the serving and this alternate one, focusing on a single chunk of nugget, so I’m posting both.