Kathleen Flinn is the author of three books: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks, and her best-selling memoir The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry about her experiences training at the famed culinary school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
My sister and I developed this recipe as an alternative to the ubiquitous, ultra-processed fried chicken nuggets for my niece, Sarah, nearly two decades ago when she was about three-years-old.
It all started one afternoon after I gave in to Sarah’s plea to go to McDonald’s. She ran around the colorful play area with the other kids, taking a break every so often to return to the table for a bite of food. During one of her absences, I reached over for one of her chicken nuggets. Breaking it in half to observe it, I contemplated the texture. “White meat?Dark meat?” No way to tell. Then, I took a nibble. It had a flat, yet salty flavor and that enhanced chicken flavor associated with powdered bouillon cubes, what people in the restaurant industry refer to as “chicken base.”
I remember wondering, “What’s actually in these nuggets?” I had never heard of mechanically separated poultry (MSP), the pink paste-like goo that Jamie Oliver famously recreated in his Food Revolution show. I didn’t know as much about the complexities of industrial poultry farming in America. But it bothered me so much that I couldn’t identify whether it was dark or white meat that I started to make them myself and took Sarah to the park instead of McDonald’s to play.
Store-bought bread crumbs can be stale and loaded with sodium. They’re not only easy to make, but also a great way to use up leftover bread and crackers. I’m baffled people will spend up to $2.50 a pound for breadcrumbs. For each cup, simply toast two slices of whole grain bread, let them cool, and process them into crumbs in a small food processor.
- 1½ pounds skinless, boneless Chicken Breasts (preferably pastured and organic)
- 1 cup 100% Whole Grain Bread Crumbs
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
- ⅓ tsp. Sea Salt
- 1 tsp. dried Thyme or Mixed Herbs
- Pinch of Cayenne (optional)
- Freshly ground Black Pepper
- 1 Egg
- ¼ cup Yogurt, Coconut Milk, or Soy Milk
- Olive Oil from a mister (see note above)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a cooling rack in the center of a cookie sheet. Set aside.
- Cut the chicken breasts into 1½-inch pieces.
- In a shallow bowl or a large plastic bag, mix together the bread crumbs,cheese, salt, dried herbs, cayenne (if using), and a few grinds of black pepper.
- Combine the egg and milk in a small bowl.
- Dip the chicken into the milk mixture and then coat it well with the bread crumb mixture, either in a bowl or by tossing it inside the bag.
- Place the coated chicken pieces on the cooling rack and put the cookie sheet into the oven.
- Depending on your oven and the size and thickness of the chicken, the pieces will take 15 to 20 minutes until firm and cooked through.
- Spritz the chicken lightly with cooking spray and then place the cookie sheet under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, until a bit browned, if desired, but keep a vigilant gaze on them lest they burn.