These chicken nugget babies are a new staple in my house! This recipe has been a labor of love, with a million different test rounds and tweaks. It all started when I saw these Pork Panko breadcrumb alternatives at H-E-B (you can also find them on Amazon). I immediately snatched up as many boxes as I could. They have basically pulverized pork rinds you can use to bread anything (my mom likes to do “fried shrimp”). My favorite thing about this particular brand (Bacon’s Heir) is that they use higher quality pork, making me feel better.
The brine recipe adapts my Thanksgiving Turkey Brine recipe I’ve been working on for years. Alex Guarnaschelli has this chicken soup with 2 whole cloves punctured into the thighs of a whole chicken, and it brings the most amazingly subtle warm quality to it. So much so that I’ve started adding cloves and sometimes star anise into most of my poultry recipes.
Tips and Tricks
You can serve these nuggets alone with some Japanese sweet potato fries or on a salad! They make killer boneless buffalo bites with celery or carrot sticks too. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to serve these nuggets. Serve with as many dipping sauces as you like! I love to use my blue cheese dressing and habanero buffalo sauce (recipes coming soon). Sometimes I have them with ranch and honey mustard, just like when I was younger. Hattie requests them almost once a week, so I’ve started keeping some breaded in the freezer ready to cook.
The best thing about this brine is you can leave out any ingredient you don’t have. Use whatever you have in your pantry! For instance, everything else is a bonus, as long as it’s the same chicken per lb./salt/water ratio. I switch the brine up frequently. This is a “starting point” with some slightly more exotic ingredients I’ll throw in every once in a while to be fancy.
- 2.5-3 lbs chicken thighs, breasts or tenders
- avocado or olive oil spray
- 10-12 cups water
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 Tbsp fennel seed
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano
- 1 Tbsp mustard powder or yellow mustard
- 3 rosemary sprigs
- 2 star anise pod (optional)
- 1/2 bunch of thyme
- Ice- enough to chill brine (6ish cups)
- 1 box pork panko
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 2 tsp paprika
Chicken Nugget Cooking Instructions:
Mix all brine ingredients in a stockpot with the water and bring to boil. Completely chill the mixture. Chicken thighs need to be in the brine for at least 3 hours, or overnight, for example. I’ve let it brine for up to 36 hours without an issue. Strain chicken from brine and rinse with cold water. If some sprigs of thyme or rosemary stick, don’t worry too much about it. It will most likely fall off when you’re cutting or breading the chicken, but if it doesn’t, it’s just extra flavor!
Cut chicken thighs into 2-inch pieces (A little larger than nugget size because they will shrink up cooking. I quarter them, it’s easier!) and place them in a bowl. Spray chicken with oil spray and toss to coat. Mix all breading ingredients in a large bowl/pyrex. Working in small batches, add chicken pieces to breading and toss till pieces are completely covered in breading. Place pieces on parchment or foil-lined baking tray***
Now on cooking the chicken nuggets.
Preheat oven to 425º.
Bake on parchment/foil-lined baking tray for 25-35 minutes, or until crispy. Flip once halfway through with a spatula (this helps get the chicken pieces off the bottom of the pan better than tongs).
Air Fryer Method:
Preheat the air fryer to 390º for 3-4 minutes. Preheat the oven to warm or 170 for holding a chicken in between batches. Then, add chicken pieces in a single layer (this will take more than one batch in the air fryer). Cook for 15-20 minutes, shaking halfway through. Hold cooked nuggets on a wire rack in a warm oven.
***At this point, you can stick a parchment/foil/wax paper-lined tray of chicken nuggets in the freezer overnight. Place in a freezer bag/air-tight container for ready-to-go quick meals! Add 10-15 extra minutes to cooking time if frozen.***