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.
600g chicken breast or mini fillets
3 slices wholemeal bread
1tbs smoked sweet paprika
½tsp coarse ground black pepper
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.