Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Real McChicken

I’m ba-aack!

And I’m back with a Mac attack.

Hands down my favorite thing at McDonald’s as a kid growing up was the Chicken McNugget Happy Meal with a strawberry shake.

Oh the greasy salty hot little morsels, so perfectly sized for a child’s hand, nestled in that little box like eggs waiting to hatch – chickens! (Or a close approximation of chicken flavor …texture … mouthfeel.)

And the sticky honey-dip that got everywhere but just melded so beautifully with the nuggets for that singular American combo of salt n’ sweet.....

The fries? Eh, they were there. Never been so into fries. I mean sure I’d eat ‘em, still will, but honestly --- not so turned on by fries. And besides, who can pay much attention to soggy little sticks of starch and beef tallow when there is (could it be?) a STRAWBERRY SHAKE IN OUR MIDST.

Oh, the pink! The cool! The unimaginable decadence of eating’s one’s dessert as appetizer, side dish and then, of course, dessert! (One of my favorite food memories is when I was a wee one, blissfully unaware of such things as nutritional content and my thighs, and I would order a malt in any old greasy spoon, and it would come with that WONDERFUL silver mixing cup on the side and a long elegant spoon and as you scooped and then sucked down the first cup with all your little might (so thick and cold it almost hurts), you would gaze at that second cup, comfortable in the knowledge that when you’ve gotten down to the slurp and dry suction, THERE IS YET ONE MORE TO BE DRUNK, still cold and sweet and waiting for you. Is there any better comfort on Earth? Is this feeling what we search for when we suction up other things into our orifices? Is this why life can seem so futile at times – the fear there is no second cup?)

Pause: [ ……………… ]

Let’s hedge our bets, shall we, let’s make the most of THIS cup. Let’s LIVE for chrissakes! Let’s drink dirty martinis on Fridays! Let’s go sledding on snow-days! Let’s eat fried chicken-thingies! (But let’s not do it at McDonalds.)

Here’s a surprise for you: fried chicken thingies have been around for a century and a half, and more. I tackled an 1881 recipe last night (from What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking by Abby Fisher). Back then they called them Chicken Croquettes, which is SO much lovelier than calling them Fingers, don’t you think?

Chicken Croquettes are blissfully simple: they are chicken meat, boiled and chopped very fine, mixed with egg, rolled in crushed crackers and deep fried in lard. For some perspective: compare to the 38 ingredients that go into the McNuggets (see Dilemma, Omnivore’s).

I’m sure Mrs. Fisher's lard beats that smelly, beefy Mickey D’s stuff any day – but I am now in full awareness of my thighs, so I pan-fried in a combo of canola oil and butter. I should note that deep frying would have worked out much better. Little cracker bits shook loose from the first batch and promptly burned in the pan, smelling and smoking up the joint and alarming my unsuspecting roommate. Windows had to be thrown open, the second batch looked and tasted a bit charred (from picking up the black bits), but no alarms went off and it all tasted pretty good.

Like chicken-good, not Chicken McNugget-good.

Next up in a brief series on the provenance of childhood comfort foods: "Macaroni a la Sauce Blanche." (That's mac n' cheese to you and me.)

Also, I'm off of work for the next week -- and back in the kitchen -- so there's lotsa cookin' to come....

Chicken Croquettes

3 pounds chicken parts (I used thighs)

3 eggs

1 ½ cups unsalted saltines, crushed very fine

Salt and pepper

2-4 tablespoons canola oil

2-4 tablespoons butter

Cayenne or paprika or some other seasoning. (Not recommended: tertiary butylhydroquinone).

1. Boil the chicken in a large pot of water until very tender and cooked through. Allow to cool and then remove all skin, gristle, and bones. Plop the chicken meat in a food processor and pulse it until it’s uniformly and finely chopped. Add a bit of salt and pepper, and whatever seasoning you’d like. Whisk eggs in a bowl and then add to chicken. Stir with a spoon to combine – or give it a few more pulses of the processor, but this will make the chicken rather pasty and weird.

2. Form the chicken into about 8 oblong patties, 3 inches long and a 1 ½ inches across. Whisk remaining egg. Dip patties into egg and then into cracker crumbs.

3. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp. each of oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place half the patties in the skillet and let cook 2 minutes before checking for done-ness. When golden brown on underside (2-3 mins.), flip and cook another 2 mins. Remove pattie from pan and let drain on a paper towel. Add remaining oil and butter to skillet, as needed, and cook remaining patties.

Service Chicken Croquettes with ketchup jazzed up with a bit of hot sauce or ranch dressing or the perennial classic, honey.


Dave, 'LunaPierCook' said...

Ah, deep fryers. So nice to have around, so seldom used because of cleanup, because of the dumping of the grease, because of the possibility of a boil-over that'll ruin your shoes and whatever's in them at the time. Ah yes, but sometimes so necessary! One thing to consider for next time: A 6-quart stock pot or dutch oven, one of those round chinese strainers and a deep-frying thermometer.

Still, the Chicken Croquettes look great! I think the other ones might be called "fingers" simply because they're finger food. I mean, buffalo ain't got no wings, either. ;-)

danny (foodinmouth) said...

Ah, those were the days, happy meals and toys, no worries about thighs, and girls had cooties.

Nowadays I still sometimes eat Mickey D's and still have no idea what cooties are...

I've ran into the same problems pan frying breaded chicken. By the third batch, the end color/caramelization on the crust looks completely different than the first batch.. or maybe that's just me.

And tis a shame that corporations do not have snow days here in new york (although sledding in central park gets crowded).

Karyn said...

Aaah. My happy meal was chicken McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce and orange drink. Not orange juice. Orange drink.

And I confess to having loved the all-you-can drink strawberry milkshakes served with burgers at Perkins.

It's so funny to think I haven't eaten any of those things in years . . .