Chicken nuggets are some of the hottest selling items at fast-food restaurants. They have a crispy, golden exterior and deliciously tender meaty filling. So, what are chicken nuggets made of?
Chicken nuggets are made of boneless chicken meat with a bread or batter coating. High-quality chicken nuggets use lean and white chicken breast meat. Low-quality nuggets use lesser-used meat scraps. Ready-to-cook nuggets have wheat, starch, flavoring agents, and preservatives in addition to meat.
Let’s take a look at this in closer detail.
Fun Facts About Chicken Nuggets
We can trace the origin of chicken nuggets to the 1950s, when they were first invented by Robert C Baker, a Cornell University professor.
This curious invention solved two problems of the meat industry—holding the meat together without skin and a batter that stuck to the meat without falling apart during frying.
To make this happen, Robert C Baker mixed ground boneless chicken with vinegar and salt. He then added powdered milk and grains to it to create the first chicken nuggets.
The product was a huge success, and the idea was devoured by food companies all over the country.
The fast-food giant McDonald’s tweaked the original recipe in the 1980s to create their iconic chicken McNuggets. They became an instant hit with customers.
Soon enough, many companies started producing frozen versions of chicken nuggets. You can buy and freeze these ready-to-cook nuggets and conveniently prepare them when you wish.
Now, the exact recipe of chicken nuggets will usually vary across brands. Nevertheless, the main ingredients always remain the same—ground meat and breading or batter.
Are Chicken Nuggets Made Of Real Chicken?
As the name suggests, chicken nuggets are made using chicken meat.
Most of the nuggets you will find use white chicken meat. These primarily contain the breast meat of chicken. Some minor ingredients like emulsified skin may also be present.
The production of chicken nuggets begins with the nugget factories receiving cleaned and sanitized poultry meat.
Boneless breast meat is separated and used for producing chicken nuggets. It’s grounded and mixed with other ingredients before being shaped into nuggets.
Liberal amounts of chicken skin are added to the nugget mix to give it an attractive texture and taste. Without the addition of chicken skin, the nuggets would be dry and tasteless.
Next, other dry ingredients like binders and stabilizing agents are mixed with the meat. Once the filling is ready, it’s cut into the desired shapes and finally coated with the batter or breading.
After this stage, it’s packaged or boxed and sent to restaurants and supermarkets.
Now, the quality of meat used to prepare chicken nuggets and the exact recipe can vary. Similarly, the ingredients used for the outer coating of a chicken nugget will also depend on the recipe and manufacturer.
It will usually be made with carbohydrates like breadcrumbs or flour.
Let’s break down a chicken nugget and analyze what each of them contains.
3 Ingredients Of A Chicken Nugget
Here are the three main ingredients of chicken nuggets.
Chicken breast is primarily used to make chicken nuggets, but how much is used will depend on the brand. Low-quality and cheap chicken nuggets contain meat scraps from mechanically separated ground chicken.
Most of the time, the meat used for chicken nuggets is extracted from the breast and pectoral area of a chicken.
However, you will also find dark chicken nuggets. These are also made from chicken meat, but the cuts used are not entirely from the breast area of the bird.
Chickens have about 30% dark meat. This dark meat is located around the bird’s legs and thighs. The color difference occurs because these muscles are used a lot and it has more red fibers.
Apart from the color difference, the nutritional content of red meat also differs from that of white meat. Dark chicken meat has higher levels of zinc, iron, and vitamin C.
When chicken nuggets are made with dark meat, they’re called dark nuggets. This type of meat usually takes longer to cook than white nuggets. It also tastes slightly different.
Dark nuggets are higher in fat, and the flavor is also more intense.
The meat used for chicken nuggets must be of a specific texture. It’s softer than fresh meat and isn’t chewy.
The protein in the meat is chopped or ground till it loses its fibrous quality. Ingredients like yeast extract, soy protein concentrate, and sodium phosphate are added to make the texture smooth and easy to chew.
Different manufacturers use different ingredients to make nugget coatings. Most of the time, the coating is made with flour. It may also use additional ingredients like gum, starch, sugar, and salt to achieve the desired texture.
Some brands use an egg wash for the nugget before coating it with bread or flour. Others use a batter-based coating. They may also add seasonings and flavors to the coating for added flavor.
The main purpose of the bread coating is to make the chicken nugget crispy. It also enhances the visual appeal by forming a uniform surface coating.
Some manufacturers even add coloring agents to the batter or coating to make the nuggets look better.
This bread or batter coating prevents moisture loss from the meat. The barrier helps the meat remain moist and juicy inside.
3. Oil Or Fat Used For Cooking
Chicken nuggets can either be deep-fried in oil or baked in an oven. You can also make them in the microwave. The texture will differ according to the method used for cooking.
Most fast-food joints use the deep-frying method for cooking chicken nuggets. It’s quicker, and the nuggets will have a crispy, delicious texture when prepared this way.
During deep-frying, the chicken nugget is submerged in a large container of hot oil. The oil engulfs the nugget and makes the bread or flour coating crisp and golden.
The meat inside the nugget will cook in its moisture, while the external crispy coating will prevent this moisture from evaporating and getting lost.
Hence, it ends up being tender and juicy. The resulting nugget has a golden crunchy exterior and is soft and tender inside.
The other way to prepare chicken nuggets is by baking. In this case, the chicken nuggets are neatly lined up on a baking tray and placed in a pre-heated oven.
They’re allowed to cook till golden brown. You may have to turn the nuggets over halfway through to ensure that both sides cook evenly.
How To Make Chicken Nuggets At Home?
Although chicken nuggets are a staple fast-food product, you can also prepare them at home. The easiest way is to start with a store-bought box of frozen chicken nuggets.
You can simply deep-fry them in oil or bake them in the oven as per the package instructions.
However, it’s not too difficult to make chicken nuggets from scratch. There are different recipes to choose from.
Regardless of the recipe, the main steps are as follows.
- Choose the meat for the nuggets. You can use chicken breasts cut into the desired size for the recipe.
- Marinate the chicken if you want the nuggets to be soft. You can also add spices to the marinade if you wish.
- For the coating, either use breadcrumbs or batter. For a crumb coating, you will need a binding agent like egg, buttermilk, or flour slurry. Dip the meat in the binding agent before coating it with flour.
- To prepare the nuggets, egg wash the chicken pieces or dip them in buttermilk, followed by the flour. Finally, coat them with breadcrumbs or dip them in the prepared batter, and deep-fry or bake them until they become crisp and golden.