Baked Chicken Nuggets

This week’s ingredient is the world’s favorite fowl: Chicken.  Eaten in almost every culture, this versatile bird is as contemporary as it is traditional.  Raising chickens has become increasingly popular in recent years among city dwellers for meat, eggs, pest control, and as beloved pets.

Chickens are believed to have been originally domesticated in Southeast Asia.  From there, they were initially transported to other parts of the world, not for food, but for cock fighting.  In Greek fables, even lions were afraid of roosters.

Chickens are sociable birds whose communities are based on a hierarchy or gruesome “pecking order” where “whipping birds” are chosen by the flock to peck mercilessly.  Dominant birds have priority for food and nesting locations.  Despite this instinctual practice, chickens are also prized for their courtesy.  When a rooster finds food, he often invites other chickens to join him by clucking, and holding up the food in his beak and dropping it before them.  Hens may also demonstrate this behavior with their chicks.  When courting a hen, a rooster may perform a “circle dance,” around the hen he fancies.

Chickens are omnivores.  In the wild, they often eat grass, and scratch at the soil in search of seeds, grain, insects and even larger animals such as lizards or young mice.

Hens are instinctually compelled to lay their eggs in the same location, or where other eggs are present.  Some farmers use this to their advantage by placing faux eggs (or golf balls) in their hen houses.  Sometimes, two hens will decide they both want the same nest and share it.  If the nest is a small one, one may lay its eggs while perched atop the other.

Chickens have been considered a sacred animal in many cultures.  The Romans are said to have used chickens as oracles, interpreting their flying and feeding patterns before battle.  Others have used them for sacrifice or vessels for evil.  The Jewish religious text, the Talmud speaks of learning courtesy toward one’s partner from the rooster:  “Had the Torah not been given to us, we would have learned modesty from cats, honest toil from ants, chastity from doves and gallantry from cocks.“ 1, 2

Chickens may live for five to ten years, depending on their breed.  Guiness World Records proclaimed an Old English Game hen named Matilda to be the World’s Oldest Living Chicken in 2004.  She was named after “Waltzing Matilda,” an Australian folk song due to her penchant for stepping side to side, appearing to “waltz.”  Near the end of her life, she performed in a magical act with her two caretakers.  She lived to a ripe old age of 16 years.  3

Chickens farmed for meat are called broiler chickens.  These chickens typically take less than 6 weeks to reach slaughter size. A free range or organic meat chicken will usually be slaughtered between 8-14 weeks of age.  4

For the ethically minded, purchasing chicken meat can be controversial.  So many choices to consider: Organic, free-range, pastured, local, home-grown, conventional (or textured vegetable protein).  Which was the “happiest” chicken?  Which is the most ecologically friendly?  Which is healthiest for us and our families?

Here are some links & articles to learn more about chicken farming practices:

USDA:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Organic Farming

U.S. Department of Agriculture; “Animal Raising Claims in the Labeling of Meat and Poultry Products”; October 2008

U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service: U.S. Certified Organic Farmland Acreage, Livestock Numbers, and Farm Operations

FAO:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Animal Welfare and the Intensification of Animal Production

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Producing and Marketing Quality Organic Products: Opportunities and Challenges; October 1999

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Food Quality and Safety

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Approaches to Promoting Animal Welfare

Home-grown:

Judge John Hodgman Podcast Episode 68: The Cluck Stops Here

Slow Foods USA

Backyard Chickens

Articles:

Rachel Steffan.  “The Difference Between Organic & Free-Range Chicken.”  National Geographic.

Martin Hickman. “The true cost of cheap chicken.”  The Independent.

This week’s recipe is for Baked Chicken Nuggets.  Our nuggets are battered with corn flake crumbs. Cornflakes are low fat, crispy, golden, and inexpensive.   Many baked nugget recipes call for seasoned bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs, which are deep fried.  Our guilt-free crispy nuggets have all the flavor without the added fat.

Recommendation:

For extra juicy, flavorful chicken nuggets, marinate the chicken pieces in a brine overnight made from 1 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 2 cups of warm water.  Rinse and dry chicken before using.

Variations:

Use cookie cutters to cut the raw chicken into shapes before battering and baking.

Use large pieces of chicken for crispy chicken sandwiches.

Slice large chicken pieces into strips and serve with sticky rice and katsu sauce for Japanese chicken katsu.

Top nuggets with marinara sauce and mozzarella, and bake for an easy Italian entree.

For an entree salad, top with coarsely chopped nuggets.

Toss nuggets in sauce for boneless hot wings.

Baked Chicken Nuggets

Preparation Time:  45 minutes

Yield:  8-10 nuggets

Ingredients:

3/4 pound chicken, cut into 1.5″ x 1″ x 0.5″ pieces
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Optional: 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 egg, whisked
1 Tablespoon milk
1 cup corn flake crumbs
oil for baking sheet

Equipment:

1 medium bowl for chicken
3 small bowls for flour, egg wash & crumbs
baking sheet
spatula

Instructions:

1.  Place chicken in medium bowl.

Mix flour, salt, pepper, and optional seasonings in small bowl.

Mix egg and milk together in a second small bowl.

Place corn flake crumbs in a third small bowl.

2.  Dip piece of chicken in seasoned flour, shaking off excess flour.

3.  Dip floured chicken piece in egg wash.

4.  Dip washed chicken piece in corn flake crumbs.

5.  Arrange nuggets on lightly oiled baking sheet, leaving space around each nugget for optimal crisping.

6.  Bake 15-20 minutes in preheated 400F oven, until cooked through but still juicy.

7.  Serve warm with favorite dipping sauce.

 

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