This year, Chick-Fil-A took the title of the fast food restaurant with the highest customer satisfaction, based off of a survey of just over 5,000 consumers. You might say it’s due to their friendly staff, or perhaps their clean kitchens, but I say it’s all about the chicken nuggets. Those crispy, salty, slightly-sweet Chick-Fil-A nuggets that ensure that the only sigh of disappointment comes when you realize it’s Sunday and you’ll have to settle on something else to eat.
But what do you do if you’re trying to avoid ordering any deep-fried dishes from Chick-Fil-A? You make yours at home instead, using a healthier recipe that is available seven days of the week and requires zero post-indulgence guilt. These Baked Chicken Nuggets with Honey Mustard Dip have all the signature flavors of the Chick-Fil-A version, and require no deep-frying, no drive-throughs, and no fuss. Wins all-around, I’d say.
So what is it that makes Chick-Fil-A style chicken nuggets so good? Apparently, it’s mostly flour, sugar, egg, salt, paprika, milk, oil, and 100% natural chicken breasts, according to their ingredients list, which is not unlike most other fried chicken purveyors. However, the nuggets are really more than the sum of their parts. If you ask around, you’ll learn that the real secret is in a flavorful brine made of pickle juice that keeps the chicken juicy and gives it its characteristic salty, savory, and slightly vinegary flavor.
The thing is, there’s no mention of pickle juice (or any of it’s ingredients) on the Chick-Fil-A website. Apparently, Chick-Fil-A used to marinate their chicken in pickle juice, but now they simply add “pickle flavor” to a presumably cheaper marinade. Interesting. “Pickle flavor” is a new one for me.
So here I use pickle juice as well as some milk to marinate the chicken. Combining milk and pickle juice may sound disgusting, but really it’s similar to a buttermilk brine in its salty, acidic, and tenderizing qualities. Similar, and arguably even better.
After soaking the chicken in the pickle juice and milk mixture, I transfer it to a bag with a mixture of flour, some breadcrumbs (for texture), paprika, powdered sugar, and salt. There’s no need to use egg here, as the milk marinade will allow the breading to stick to the chicken when it’s tossed together.
To make sure the breading doesn’t wind up dry, I spray it liberally with cooking oil. Between the moisture from the milk and the moisture from the cooking oil, I want the flour to be saturated before baking. Don’t be afraid of the oil– it’s not nearly as much as you’d use when deep frying, and it allows a nice, crisp crust to develop in the oven.
To make the honey mustard dip, I combine equal parts yellow mustard, honey, and light mayonnaise. It’s so simple, but extremely addictive. Once the Baked Chicken Nuggets are done baking, they’re ready for dipping and devouring.
Every bite is just as juicy and flavorful as the kind you’d get from Chick-Fil-A! As you can tell from the pictures, James certainly enjoyed them. I don’t know if he’s ever been happier to be my hand-model dipper, since the compensation for his time and efforts came in the form of a big ol’ batch of chicken nuggets.
- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup dill pickle juice (from the jar)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- Cooking oil spray
- Yellow mustard
- Light mayonnaise
- In a large, sealable container, combine the chicken pieces, pickle juice, and milk. Stir well, seal, and refrigerate for an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spray the parchment paper lightly with cooking spray, and set aside.
- In a large freezer bag, combine the flour, breadcrumbs, powdered sugar, salt, paprika, and onion powder. Use tongs to remove one piece of chicken from the marinade at a time, let excess liquid drip off, and add it to the freezer bag. Shake the bag to and toss well to coat the chicken nuggets. Remove the nuggets, one at a time, shake off excess breading, and place on the prepared baking sheet.
- Spray the nuggets liberally with cooking oil spray. Make sure there aren't any crumbly, dry patches of breading.
- Bake until the chicken nuggets are cooked through and the breading is golden, about 20-25 minutes, flipping once.
- As the nuggets bake, combine equal parts honey, yellow mustard, and light mayonnaise in a small bowl.
- Serve the warm with the honey mustard and enjoy!
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