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There's real joy in nuggets of chicken

Chef Lance Seeto
Sunday, June 18, 2017

In April of this year, an American teenager tweeted at fast food chain Wendy's to test his luck and try to win a year's supply of free chicken nuggets. Carter Wilkerson's Twitter campaign began when he cheekily asked how many retweets it would take to get a year's supply of their popular chicken nuggets.

The chain responded "18 million" and while he fell way short, he was able to hit a staggering 3.4 million retweets, which got me thinking about the popularity of nuggets and fried chicken alternatives. Manufactured nuggets are not exactly made with the healthiest of natural ingredients (check out the ingredient panel for yourself next time!), but their popularity as an easy to eat snack spurred me to find a healthier and tastier version of the breaded chicken nugget.

Taiwanese popcorn chicken

Though I've never been to Taiwan, I have heard of a popular night market-style fried chicken snack called Popcorn Chicken, obviously getting its name from its small size and crunchy texture. It's one of a variety of local street foods found in Taiwanese night markets and is typically seasoned with garlic, light soy, and a good amount of Chinese five spice powder. I love this recipe as it is barely breaded, headily-spiced but crisp and crunchy.

Turning Japanese

Fried chicken, whether it's American, Japanese, or Korean, is one of my favourite foods of all time. It's one of those dishes that strikes the perfect balance between flavour, texture and richness. The only downside about a really great fried chicken (calories aside), is that it takes about a day to make.

Japanese karaage, pronounced kah-rah-ah-geh, literally means "Tang fried" (Tang as in the Chinese dynasty), and is an umbrella term for any chicken that's coated in either potato starch or flour and fried.

The most common type of karaage, is known as tatsutaage, which is usually chicken marinated in soy sauce and then coated with potato starch. The name is in reference to the reddish brown colour imparted by the soy sauce, which was thought to resemble the colour of the Tatsuta River in autumn, when the surrounding Japanese maple trees turn the river a similar hue.

After being marinated in soy sauce, ginger and garlic, the two-bite nuggets of chicken are dredged in potato starch and deep fried until crisp. The potato starch creates a golden shell around the karaage with a lasting crispness which makes it perfect for packing into a bento box lunch. Unlike processed nuggets which use minced chicken, karaage and its many variations main use the dark meat of the chicken, especially the thigh fillet.

Taste of Hawaii

Mochiko chicken, or mochi chicken is a popular dish in Hawaii and is one such dish that is inspired by karaage. It's the dish many people bring to family gatherings because it's easy to make and is always a sure winner.

Inspired by Hawaii's Japanese heritage, Mochiko is the Japanese sweet rice flour used to make mochi, which is the sticky rice cakes often filled with sweet bean paste. But when you use mochi flour in the chicken batter, it creates a chewy texture that's different, and then the equal parts of cornstarch provide bits of crunchiness. The Japanese flour is hard to find in Fiji

Bake instead of fried

If you're trying to reduce the amount of deep-fried food in your diet, baked chicken nuggets are a healthy alternative and super easy to make. It's basically two ingredients, minced chicken and breadcrumbs, with a few spices. If you want to make them gluten-free, then substitute the bread with almond or rice flour. They can also be made ahead of time by freezing them uncooked and baking them when you need.

KFC secret recipe?

He had us lickin' our fingers for years but is the secret finally out to Colonel Harland Sanders' tasty blend of 11 herbs and spices?

The original recipe has been closely guarded since the 1940s, when Col. Sanders began cooking his famous chicken, and is thought to be the key to the fast-food giant's success.

But last year, American news outlet the Chicago Tribune published what it claims to be the secret recipe found in an old scrapbook belonging to one of the colonel's relatives. The official ingredients list is locked away in a vault and only handed out on a strict need to know basis.

It's been a few years since Fiji has seen a KFC outlet but I wonder if the published recipe of 11 secret herbs and spices is actually close to the real thing?

Feeling less guilty

about fried chicken

Let's face it. Our indulgence in fried oily foods has contributed to the NCD epidemic. But that shouldn't mean that you couldn't enjoy this naughty food every now and then, maybe once a month.

The human body can cleverly expel the excess oil, but only if it's not bombarded by oily foods every day. To help your digestive system process fried foods faster, eat it with plenty of raw salads and drink hot water or black tea to help flush it out.

So what happened to the American chicken nugget kid? Did he get his wish?

In recognition of the accomplishment of having the most retweets, Wendy's agreed to provide the teen with a gift card for a year's supply of chicken nuggets and also made a $100,000 donation in Wilkerson's name to the nonprofit Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which helps to find homes for children. Internet fame can be easy if you're prepared to be bold and cheeky, but be careful for what you wish for.

* Lance Seeto is executive chef for Fiji's first island beach club, Malamala Beach Club, opening in mid-2017.

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