The most important food investigation of our time: how to make chicken nuggets at home

Food52 leaves no breadcrumb or batter unfried in a quest for perfection.

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Photo: Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post (Getty Images)

It is an undisputed fact that the very best fast-food chicken nuggets, and therefore the very best chicken nuggets anywhere, are the Chicken McNuggets at McDonald’s. But, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old-timer, I believe that even those aren’t as great as they used to be, ever since McDonald’s decided to use only white meat.

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What is this cult-like devotion to white meat? Does the world’s fast food brain trust have something against juicy chicken that actually tastes like something? Would that interfere somehow with the flavor of the batter and the dipping sauces? (For more on the glory of chicken thighs, check out Dennis Lee’s post from earlier today about Thighstop.)

Fortunately, the indefatigable Ella Quittner of Food52 has turned her attention to the question of how to make the best chicken nuggets at home. She offers many options for breading, battering, baking, and frying, but one variable does not change: the filling always contains a mixture of dark and light meat.

Quittner concludes that shallow-frying yields the juiciest nuggets and rice flour batter the crispiest cover. (“Biting into these nuggets was like driving a Mack Truck over a Zalto glass,” she writes, “and yet each shell still managed to retain the faintest bounce, distantly reminiscent of the texture of tahdig.”) But deep-frying, air-frying, and baking all have their attractions, and panko also gives a nugget a nice, crispy jacket.

As an extra bonus, Quittner’s report contains an interview with Leah Shutkever, a British woman who set a Guinness world record last November by eating 60 chicken nuggets in three minutes (her nugget of choice was Chicken McNuggets). Shutkever described the experience as “exhilarating, nerve-racking, fast-paced, and daunting.” She did note, however, that she hit “flavor fatigue” after 20 nuggets, and also recommends a mixture of breast and thigh meat and some seasoning to keep the nugget-eating experience interesting. So there you have it: commentary from an expert. Now go forth and make chicken nuggets.

DISCUSSION

By
Dr Emilio Lizardo

Like what you like, but I had a McNugget at a child’s birthday party a week or two ago. The meat was rubbery and the breading was gooey. It tasted blandly of salt and little else. Maybe they just don’t survive transport well, but it was terrible.