McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are a hallmark of a childhood well spent. There are few things better than a little golden nugget (always perfectly fried) dipped in that little sauce tub of BBQ or honey mustard or sweet chili. Hell, they were even good dipped in ketchup.
Alas, McNuggets have taken a few hits recently, with people erroneously reporting that the chicken is pink slime. That myth was so widely circulated that McDonald’s made a short video a few years back that showed us all exactly how each McNugget is made — a smart, necessary move by them. They also started using cleaner, better chicken in their tender morsels.
Still, McNuggets aren’t exactly gourmet — so I’ve taken upon myself to make McDonald’s food at home once again. Here’s my recipe:
McDonald’s only uses white meat, so I’m doing the same by taking a whole chicken breast and turning it in to a nugget. Basically, the nuggets are twice cooked. Once in the factory before they’re flash frozen, and then again in the restaurant. Also, a lot of very, very good fried chicken on the market is poached or pre-cooked before being breaded and fried again to crisp it up. So I’m taking that approach here.
I generously salt and pepper my chicken breast. Then I get my skillet pipping hot with some olive oil.
I sear off each side of the chicken to get that nice Maillard Effect going. Next I deglaze the skillet with about a cup of dry white wine. Then I add in a couple roughly chopped green onions, two smashed garlic cloves, two star anise, a few whole allspice berries, two bay leaves, and about a cup of vegetable stock. I cover the chicken in 4 slices of bacon and throw a lid on the skillet.
I let this simmer off, braising the chicken. All of that wine, bacon fat, stock, and spice is going to infuse into the white breast meat making it super juicy and amazingly tasty. You could theoretically just serve this as a meal when the fluids have emulsified into a nice sauce if you wanted. But we’re here to make nuggets!
I remove the chicken breast from the skillet and make sure to bring with some of the green onion, garlic, and a little of the sauce that’s left. I remove the bones and then mince everything — the seared skin, the bacon, the green onion, and garlic, is all mixed in there for maximum flavor.
I transfer the minced chicken into a mixing bowl and add two egg whites and a heaping tablespoon of flour. This will help bind and form the nuggets.
Next, I form my nuggets using a large spoon. I’m not going to shape them like McDonald’s McNuggets’ bell, bone, ball, and boot. Honestly, does anyone ever care about their shape? You never hear of some diva or rockstar demanding ‘100 chicken McNuggets, ALL BOOTS!’ So, I’m just making mine into an oval shape.
I place each one on a sheet of grease proof paper. Next, I make my coating. I scramble three eggs in one plastic dish. I use all purpose flour spiked with smoked paprika, MSG, black pepper, and a pinch of cumin in a second plastic dish.
This is the boring part. I dip the nuggets into the flour to coat, then the egg, then the flour again and place it back on the grease proof paper. After doing that. It’s imperative to let the coating settle (likewise with fried chicken). So while they’re settling I make my sauces.
I loved McDonald’s BBQ and honey mustard as a kid, so that’s what I’m going for here. I use little pans that are perfect for cooking, serving, and dipping. My BBQ sauce is a few tablespoons of low-sugar ketchup, a dash of apple cider vinegar, heaping teaspoons of each garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and smoked paprika. I add in a large tablespoon of smoked brown sugar. I finish the whole thing off with a spot of red Thai curry paste for a little kick.
The honey mustard is a lot more straight forward. It’s equal parts medium yellow mustard and filtered honey, a few glugs of good olive oil and a couple cranks from a nutmeg and allspice mill.
I bring both of the sauces up to a very gentle simmer for about 10 minutes so the flavors can emulsify. Then I set aside.
I get my skillet back out (after a scrubbing) and get a couple cups of sunflower oil up to about 375F. Since I don’t have to worry about cooking the chicken inside the nugget, I just need to brown these babies off.
I fry them up six at a time. You don’t want to crowd your pan and lower the temp of the oil dramatically. It takes about 4 minutes to brown the nuggets.
I set the nuggets on some paper towels to sop up as much excess oil as possible and serve immediately. The outside is nice and crunchy, but not hard. Inside is a still juicy white chicken meat that has layers of smoke, root vegetables, savory, and a hint of acid from the white wine. The consistency wasn’t as mushy as the classic McDonald’s version. It had more a minced meat feel to it like a loose hamburger patty that was just tacky enough to stick together.
The sauces are a nice change up. The BBQ blends well with the spice of the meat. And the honey in the honey mustard added a very smooth sweetness that cut through the savory of the nuggets. Overall this recipe took about an hour to make (the braising being the longest time constraint). You could easily make a huge batch of these and freeze them in packs to pull out and cook at will later, because they’re damn delicious. Did I improve the original or am I just riffing on an unbeatable classic? Let us know!