Chicken Nuggets

“The breading is the swaddling clothes, the chicken is the Christ child, the steam piping off the nuggets is the breath of the animals gathered around the manger, and the fries are the angels’ wings,” mused hubby Pat.

“All right, Robert Frost, take it easy,” I scoffed as I pulled a cookie sheet of golden nuggets from the oven. “I know there’s really nothing holiday-ish about a chicken-nugget dinner, but considering how many formal dinners and parties I will be putting on this month, I appreciate the quick-hitter dinner.”

The conversation was amusing...the nuggets were disgusting. Kirkland Whole Grain Nuggets (five pounds for $11.99 at Costco) had sold me on their advertising. How can you go wrong with whole-grain breading and nuggets the shape of Mickey Mouse? Though the breading was crispy, the salt was overpowering.

The following day I tried Wellshire Kids Chicken Bites in dinosaur shapes ($6.99 for 10 ounces at Whole Foods). Yes, a lot of quick dinners, but did I mention it was a busy month?

“I like the flavor of the crust, but the chicken has that processed-mush feel,” complained Pat. “My biggest grievance is against meat products molded into animal shapes. Chicken is not supposed to look like a dinosaur or Mickey Mouse.”

“Where’s the kid in you?” I countered.

“The kid in me wants chicken the way my mom made it.”

I decided a phone survey followed up by a taste-testing was in order. The Kellys needed a go-to nugget option. “My kids don’t like the Mickey Mouse Costco Nuggets,” reported Sarah. “Too spicy for them. They do like the Trader Joe’s Chicken Drummettes.”

“I think chicken nuggets are dicey, some are plain gross,” offered Bernice. “Sometimes it’s the texture of the meat inside, sometimes it’s the taste of the coating. I don’t serve them with ketchup; we use honey, and I usually give it to them with peas and then the peas stick in the honey and they will eat their peas because it gets honey on them.”

“The only chicken nuggets I ever buy are the fresh ones — as opposed to frozen — from Fresh & Easy,” offered Lissa (Chicken Breast Bites, $4.49 for 12 ounces). “The kids love them. They are all breast meat, and you can’t beat a dinner that is ready after one minute in the microwave.”

After many shopping carts full of nuggets, I served them up to Pat and nephew Tom. First up: Lissa’s Fresh & Easy Chicken Breast Bites. “Savory chicken, a tad too high of a breading-to-chicken ratio, but definitely a Kelly Keeper,” announced Pat.

Fresh & Easy’s Popcorn Chicken (10.4 ounces for $2.99) didn’t fare as well. “I’m licking chicken mush out of my molars,” said Pat. “The breading isn’t crispy, it falls apart,” added Tom.

Tyson All Natural Breaded Chicken Nuggets (5 pounds for $12.99 at Costco) also failed the taste test. “Chicken mush, and the orange color of the breading is off-putting,” grimaced Pat. “Chicken-flavored cheese,” confirmed Tom.

The Foster Farms Breast Nuggets ($8.99 for 2 pounds, 1.6 ounces at Ralphs) was another loser. “This is the closest to the original McDonald’s chicken McNuggets,” Pat remarked, “and that is not a compliment.” Tom said, “It’s mush, almost like a liquid inside, and the uniform squares are off-putting.”

Trader Joe’s Chicken Drummettes ($3.49 for 1 pound) was a group “no.” “Flavorless chicken, the texture of soggy bread,” announced Tom. “Makes me think of amusement-park food,” suggested Pat.

The table found a second keeper in the Perdue Popcorn Chicken (3.5 pounds for $12.99 at Costco). The round bits reminded Tom of donut holes. “I like the corn flavor of the breading.”

“And the chicken breaking into strings is a good sign, as opposed to chicken mush. There’s a strange irony to most chicken nuggets,” Pat preached. “They’re chicken ground up and then reconstituted to feel like chicken again.”

The winner for the evening was the uncooked Nature’s Rancher Chicken Breast Nuggets (12 ounces for $5.49 at Whole Foods). “This smells delicious from out of the oven,” noticed Pat. “Tastes like boneless fried chicken. I’d happily eat five or six more of these without sauce.”

“The texture and crispiness of the breading is several notches better than all the others,” said Tom.

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