I’ll admit it: sometimes my kids eat at McDonald’s when we’re out and about. They like McNuggets, I like calm children, peace prevails in the minivan. Our celiac diagnosis has forced us to plan ahead more for weekend lunches. We have to tote our own PB & J and grapes and magic pouches of fruit and veggie puree; we can’t just stop in for a quick Happy Meal. Even at home, I had a big bag of frozen chicken nuggets to make things easy for the babysitters. Gluten-free chicken nuggets do exist, but they come in an 8-ounce box for about $6.00 and they aren’t that great. I decided it was worthwhile to try making my own.*
Finding a toddler-friendly method turned out to be quite a process.
At first I thought I could get away with a baked chicken tenders technique. I dipped little chunks of chicken breast in egg and then in crushed, seasoned Corn Chex, then baked it. Rejected.
I baked chicken chunks that had been dipped in egg and then in seasoned GF flour, then sprayed with cooking spray. Considered, but rejected.
I gave up on the baking. Frying is not my strongest area of cooking expertise, but I tried it. I fried chicken chunks that had been dipped in egg and then seasoned GF flour. Considered, nibbled, but rejected.
Finally, I gave in and did something I’d said I wouldn’t do: I put the chicken in the food processor. And that made all the difference. It’s gross and messy, but in our house I think it’s worth it. Plus, really, once you get going it’s not a big deal. Next time I’ll double the recipe and freeze some for future lunches. [Recipe follows cut]
Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets (the toddler-friendly kind)
- 1.5 lb chicken breast
- 1.5 tsp. salt, divided
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/3 C potato starch
- 1/3 C white rice flour
- 1/3 C brown rice flour
- 1/3 C corn starch
- 1 egg + 1 Tbsp water
- 1 egg
- Oil for frying (I use about 2.5 C of canola oil)
- Start heating the oil so it will be ready when you are. If you have a deep fryer, feel free; I fill a large cast-iron skillet to a depth of a little less than inch and heat it on medium to medium-high heat.
- In a wide, shallow pan (e.g. a pie pan), blend rice flours, corn starch, potato starch and 3/4 tsp salt. Set aside.
- In another wide, shallow pan, whisk egg and water until well blended.
- Put the chicken, spices and remaining 3/4 tsp. salt in a food processor. Don’t bother removing any stray pieces of fat. Pulse in until you have an unappetizing chicken paste. Remind yourself you love your toddlers.
- Use two teaspoons to scoop out small ovals of the chicken mixture. Make them smaller than you think you should and flatten them a bit. Coat each in the flour mixture, then dip in egg, then back in flour. Rest the un-cooked nuggets on a plate until you have used at least half the chicken. You can make the rest while the first half cooks.
- If you’re not adept at frying, you’ll want to do a practice nugget before you load up the pan. The oil is hot enough if it starts to bubble when you sprinkle a bit of the flour mixture in it. Depending on how big you’ve made your nuggets and how hot your oil is, it should take less than 2 minutes per side to get them golden brown and cooked through.
- Once you’ve cooked one and adjusted the temperature, you can cook several at a time–don’t crowd them too much or the oil may cool more than you want. While those ones cook, finish making and coating the last of your nuggets.
- Place on a plate lined with paper towels. They’ll stay plenty hot while you make the second batch. Serve with gluten-free dipping sauces, of course.
- I highly recommend the Cooks Illustrated Oven Fries, but frozen ones are a lot easier when you’re already grinding meat in a food processor. Or be all healthy and serve with fruit and salad. 🙂
Makes about 35 nuggets/serves 2 adults and 3 hungry toddlers with enough left over for a lunch.
* Plus, by making them myself I can control the quality of the ingredients. There are no fillers, no preservatives. I can use organic, local farmers market stuff or I can use the party pack from Safeway. I’ll probably do both, as time goes on.