Monday, February 4, 2008

The Golden Nugget

When I was a kid I always had the best brown bag lunch at my table. While the other children sadly unwrapped their boring bologna sandwiches and flattened, soggy peanut butter and jelly, I usually unscrewed the lid from a thermos full of beef stew, or carefully unwrapped a fois gras sandwich. But my favorite lunchtime meal by far was my mom's leftover chicken milanese. We'd have the traditional spiced and breaded chicken cutlets for dinner, and the next morning my mom would heat them, cut them into strips and wrap them in several layers of tin foil. As lunchtime approached I'd anxiously eye my brown bag, knowing that inside I'd find the chicken strips (still warm), two little foil pouches of ketchup, and two juice boxes (because one is never really enough).

Once the lunch bell rang I'd hightail it to the cafeteria knowing that my friends would inevitably each want to try a chicken strip--usually leaving very little for me. So, I'd inhale whatever I could until they made it to the table, where I'd occasionally trade a few strips for a brownie. These days, I continue to make chicken milanese for myself, but to be perfectly honest, there are rarely leftovers. So, as I got home cold and soaking wet this past Friday, I found myself wishing I'd find a brown paper bag sitting on the counter, chock full of chicken strips and foil ketchup pouches. That didn't happen of course, but I did have a tray of boneless, skinless chicken breasts sitting in the fridge. I decided that since I was already reminiscing about my childhood, I might as well make a grown-up version of a classic kids favorite.

I'd been toying with the idea of making a dish with almonds, so I pulled out my spice grinder and pulverized a few of them along with some chili, cayenne, and white pepper. Then I added a few spices et voilá--spicy almond crusted chicken nuggets were born. They actually turned out great and had quite a kick to them. The crust was thick and crispy with a surprisingly subtle toasted almond flavor. Chicken nuggets must always have a dipping sauce (I'm sure there's a rule about that somewhere) so I decided to go three ways: something to cool down the heat, something to increase the heat, and something sweet. For the cool down I went with plain old sour cream, for extra spice I went with my green salsa, and for added sweetness it had to be every kids favorite dipping sauce--ketchup. Here's the recipe I came up with, but make sure to cut down on the cayenne if you're making them for kids:

Spicy Almond Crusted Chicken Nuggets
(makes about 12 nuggets)

1 1/2 cups boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/4 inch thick nugget sized pieces
1 cup flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil (enough to coat the bottom of a large pan)

Almond Crust:
1 cup almonds, ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried thyme
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder

1. Combine all of the crust ingredients and spread out onto a plate.

2. Place three plates side by side, the first with flour, the second with egg and the third with the crust mixture.

3. Season chicken with salt and then dredge in the flour, followed by the egg and lastly, the crust mixture.

4. Fry chicken in vegetable oil over medium high heat until cooked through and golden brown on both sides. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. Enjoy!


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