Chicken Nuggets

Baked Chicken Nuggets
Wotchers!

I’ve been serving these up for weeknight suppers for years – I serve up other stuff too, not just these – and my daughter recently asked me if they were on the blog. When I replied that they weren’t, she asked “Why not?”, to which I had no answer, so here we are.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of tweaks and improvements, but this version, possibly the simplest, has always come out on top. Nevertheless, whether you’d like to try these variations for yourself or save yourself the bother, I’ll quickly run through the possibilities for switching up the details.

  • Chicken: Personally I prefer dark meat on a chicken – it’s so much more flavourful than the white – and have made these with halved chicken thigh fillets, but the vote in this house is invariably for either chicken breast cut into large chunks or, as in the picture, mini fillets. I’m willing to concede that the short cooking time is actually more suited to white meat, allowing it to remain moist under its crisp crumb coating.
  • The Coating: Egg-wash and breadcrumbs. Sounds simple, and it certainly can be, but it can also be varied slightly without too much additional hassle
    • Egg-wash. The meat pieces need to be bathed in some kind of liquid in order to get the coating to stick, and beaten egg is fine. However, if you have some egg-whites that need using up, then my preference is for using them to make both these and the fat-free crispy oven chips and at one stroke becoming my daughter’s food hero – fat-free chicken nuggets and chips for supper and a fridge clear out – win! The egg-whites, in my head at least, seem to make for a crisper coating.
    • Breadcrumbs: I’ve tried them all – fresh, dried, panko, corn flakes, polenta, cornbread – and indeed you should too if you like experimentation, but as already mentioned, the most popular have emerged as also the simplest – fresh breadcrumbs. I use 3 slices of wholemeal bread – because that’s what we have, but white can be used too. Fresh as opposed to dried because they are to give crispness to the coating only, and are not needed to absorb any moisture. By the end of the short cooking time, they have gone from soft, fresh crumbs to crisp, dry crumbs, without burning. Dried breadcrumbs tend to dry too much during cooking and the likelihood of burning them is increased. Panko breadcrumbs also did not get the popular vote, as the pieces were too coarse. In addition, a single layer of coating is quite sufficient – the time I tried for extra-crispiness in the coating by double-breading was deemed a borderline failure as the chicken was declared TOO crispy!
  • Spices – You can use any combination that takes your fancy, as long as you include the secret ingredient: sweet paprika. This has little flavour and I use it mostly for colour, as it turns the breadcrumbs golden brown without the need for frying. Personally I like to use smoked sweet paprika, for a little more interest, pepper, salt and then add to it three or four additional spices – whatever catches my eye from the spice jars. Select from any of the following: cumin, coriander, garlic granules, onion, powder, garam masala, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, nutmeg, ground ginger, grated Parmesan.
  • Cooking method: Baked in the oven. This is not only much healthier than frying, but it is also quicker, relatively foolproof and makes practically no mess – Win! You can bake your nuggets on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The underside will be slightly less crisp, due to trapped moisture. Alternatively, lay them on a lightly-oiled (to prevent them sticking) metal rack which will allow the hot air to circulate all around them as they bake.

Chicken Nuggets

Serves 4

600g chicken breast or mini fillets
3 slices wholemeal bread
1tbs smoked sweet paprika
½tsp coarse ground black pepper
¼tsp salt
½tsp each of cumin, onion powder, garlic granules, coriander and garam masala – or whatever herbs/spices you prefer

1 large egg or 60ml eggwhites

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan
  • Tear the bread into rough pieces and place into a food processor. Blitz to breadcrumbs.
  • Add the paprika, seasoning and spices and blitz again until the crumbs are of a uniform colour. Tip out into a bowl.
  • In a second bowl, whisk the egg or whites until frothy.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray a cooking rack lightly with oil and place over a baking sheet.
  • To avoid getting in a sticky mess, set up your worktop as follows, from left to right: chicken, egg-wash, breadcrumbs, baking tray.
  • With your left hand, tae a piece of chicken and toss it in the egg-wash, then drop the chicken into the breadcrumbs.
  • With your right hand, shake the bowl with the crumbs around until the piece of chicken is coated, then remove to the cooking tray/rack.
  • Continue until all of the chicken is coated.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken pieces. If at all in doubt, cut the thickest piece in half to check that the insides show no hint of pink. If you’re serving these with the fat-free oven chips, they can go into the same oven for the last 12 minutes of baking.
  • Serve at once with salad (I know you won’t but I’m going to pretend you will) and ketchup.

Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken

Wotchers!

Here’s a delicious Deja Food recipe that we regularly enjoy in this house, whenever there is some Tandoori Chicken going spare. That in itself is quite a challenge, since both my husband and daughter love Tandoori Chicken with a passion, so I find myself making gargantuan quantities purely in order to have anything left with which to make Butter Chicken.

Invented at the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearl), one of the oldest restaurants in Delhi, by Mr Kundan Lal Gujral, Butter Chicken, or Murgh Makhani to give it it’s proper name, was devised as a way of keeping Tandoori Chicken moist and flavourful from one day to the next. The dark, smokiness of the cooked chicken is enriched by the Makhani gravy of spices, ghee, tomatoes and cashews, especially if you can leave them marinading overnight. The recipe below is one that I’ve used for 5-6 years, tweaking slightly to reduce the fat content whilst still retaining the rich flavours of the dish.

I’m not going to tell you how to make Tandoori Chicken, because I’d only be repeating the most excellent words of Madhur Jaffrey. Her recipe appears in Indian Cookery, a well-thumbed copy of which is gradually falling apart on one of my many shelves of cook books, but it is also available online HERE. I’m glad she has stopped advocating the lurid food colouring – it always unnerved me somewhat to see incandescent pieces of chicken on the plate. To get a little more red into my chicken, I add a generous amount of sweet paprika – the Rajah brand here in the UK gives fiery colour without the fiery heat – but since it will ultimately be lovingly enveloped in sauce, I shouldn’t fret too much about this.

A couple of points on ingredients: I strongly recommend hunting out a tin of ghee, as its almost perfumed aroma greatly enhances the dish, and dried fenugreek leaves are a must for that authentic taste. Add hot spices if you like, but I prefer it without.

Butter Chicken

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger – peeled & chopped
6 fresh chillies, red or green – deseeded
6 cloves garlic – peeled
50g ghee or clarified butter
4 x 5cm cinnamon sticks
3 black cardamom pods (if not available, use 10 green cardamom pods in total)
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbs cloves
4 bay leaves
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – pureed smooth
100 g raw cashew nuts
1-2 tbs honey
1-2 tbs tomato paste
paprika to taste (optional)
chilli powder to taste (optional)

2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves
50 g ghee or clarified butter
60 ml crème fraiche

  • Make a paste of the ginger, garlic and chillis by blitzing in a food processor with 4 tablespoons of water until well chopped.
  • Melt the ghee/butter in a large frying pan and add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves and bay leaves. Cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
  • Add the ginger/garlic/chilli mix and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, stir thoroughly, then turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and pick out the whole spices or sieve the sauce to remove them. Discard the spices.
  • Pour the sauce into a blender and add the cashews, paprika, chilli powder (if using), honey and tomato paste. Puree until thickened and smooth (about 2 minutes). Stir the contents thoroughly and puree again for 30 seconds.
  • If you’re making this to freeze, then stop now. Pour the sauce into suitable containers (this will make about 900 ml of sauce – yes, we like this sauce a LOT – and having it in the freezer can bring a meal together in minutes), label and leave to cool before freezing. If you’re preparing ahead, add your sauce to your cooked/cold Tandoori Chicken, stir, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge, otherwise add the chicken and proceed as below.
  • To Serve
    • Heat gently in a suitably large pan.
    • Add the remaining ghee and the dried fenugreek and simmer for five minutes.
    • Stir in the crème fraiche just before serving and sprinkle  a few more fenugreek leaves as garnish

Serve with plain rice and naan breads (to mop up all that lovely sauce!)


Chicken Tetrazzini

A bowl of Chicken Tetrazzini

Wotchers!

I’m going full-on retro this week, with the tweak of a classic from my days as a bistro waitress, back in nineteen tumpty-tum *waves hand vaguely*

ANYHOO….

Created in the early years of the 20th century in the United States and named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini, it is usually found on late-December tables made with leftover turkey and a can of condensed soup. *shudder*

This, however, is an altogether more delicate affair with fresh herbs and mushrooms and a splash of wine.

I love this dish for lots of reasons – it’s easy, its versatile, you can cook it from scratch, but it can also be created from cold chicken and cooked pasta, which means it can be assembled in a relatively short amount of time. The sauce – if  I say so myself – is AMAZING: I could quite happily eat it by itself. If you’re in a hurry, then it can be served straight from the pan as a pasta sauce – but if you have the time to make it ahead, it can also sit in the fridge in a casserole and then heat through in about 30 minutes when needed, with no need for any further attention.

I don’t usually fuss too much with specific types of ingredients, but for this recipe I strongly recommend using the chestnut mushrooms if possible – other mushrooms tend to turn the sauce a rather unappetising grey. Fresh thyme is also preferable, but 1.5 tsp of dried thyme can be used instead.

The amounts of both chicken and mushrooms can be varied according to taste or availability. Since the cooked mushrooms have a meaty texture, they mix well with the chicken, and can easily make a small amount of chicken stretch to a family meal. The pasta can be any shape, but shells (conchiglie) and twists (fusilli) hold sauce the best. Alternatively, egg noodles are quicker.

Chicken Tetrazzini

300-500g cooked chicken, diced
30g butter
2 tbs vegetable oil
250-500g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
5 shallots – finely chopped
5 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves – chopped
150ml white wine

50g butter
50g flour
1 litre milk- warmed
Up to 4 tsp chicken stock powder (bouillon)
freshly ground nutmeg
A handful of chopped parsley – or more to taste

600g cooked pasta or cook 450g of dry pasta.

Optional
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

  • Put the diced chicken into a bowl and set aside.
  • Melt the butter and oil in a large pan.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook over a medium heat until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms become pale golden. This will take about 10 minutes.
  • Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme, and cook until the shallots soften and become translucent.
  • Stir in the wine and simmer until it has evaporated, then add the mushroom mixture to the chicken.
  • Melt the butter in the now empty pan and scatter in the flour to make a roux for the sauce.
  • Stir the mixture for 3-4 minutes to cook the flour, then remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time. NB – removing the pan from the heat while adding the milk will help reduce the chances of lumps forming.
  • When all the milk has been added, return the pan to the heat and continue to stir while the sauce comes to the boil and thickens.
  • Gradually add the bouillon powder, tasting between each addition to make sure it’s not becoming too salty.
  • Finally add a good grating of nutmeg and the parsley.
  • If you’re eating immediately, add the chicken mix and pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Turn the heat to low and let simmer gently while everything heats through. When thoroughly warmed, serve in bowls with a side salad or vegetables – broccoli and cauliflower go well .
  • To serve later, turn off the heat once the sauce has thickened. Allow to cool before stirring in the chicken mix and the cooked pasta. Pour the mixture into an oven-proof dish.
  • Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Cover with foil and refrigerate.
  • To serve, put the dish onto a baking sheet (in case the sauce bubbles over) and put in the oven.
  • Turn the oven on to 180ºC, 160ºC Fan and allow to warm for 25-30 minutes, or until the dish is thoroughly heated and the sauce bubbling.
  • Remove the foil after 20 minutes so that the topping can become crunchy and brown.

Variations
Peas go very well with this recipe, either as a side dish or stirred into the sauce itself.
Turkey – This is equally amazing when made with turkey – a welcome standby to have when faced with mountains of Christmas leftovers.
Vegetarian – just omit the chicken and increase the amount of chestnut mushrooms to 1kg. Use vegetable bouillon powder when making the sauce.
Pasta – consider using long, flat pasta such as linguini.