Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Experiments in my Kitchen: Popcorn Chicken

Popcorn chicken is one of those treats you find versions of in many American restaurants, fast food places, and little shacks selling lunch snacks by the sea or at amusement parks. Sometimes this is called "chicken in a basket" and comes in a little plastic basket surrounded with French fries, although sometimes you end up with bigger chicken strips (fingers) or chunks (nuggets). Popcorn chicken comes in itty bitty pieces. This is a classic guilty pleasure food, yet finding a recipe that matches this style typically is surprisingly hard. I found plenty of versions using coconut or panko, oven baked varieties, healthy varieties, Buffalo chicken wing flavored style, even Asian style. But laying my hands on a home made version of just the simple basic crispy mild flavored mini chicken bites version was nearly impossible. I decided to try to come up with something of my own. They are still what I classify as treat food - but at least if I am going to eat this not-particularly-healthful dish, I may as well know what is going into it and have some control over its calorie content.

I decided to marinate my chicken in some buttermilk and a bit of hot sauce, a trick Paula Deen made famous with her fried chicken. After about an hour and half of marinating, I dredged the chicken pieces into some seasoned self-rising flour (for the seasonings, I used poultry seasoning, Lawry's seasoned salt, black pepper, marjoram, thyme, garlic powder) and then fried the chicken bites for a few minutes in sunflower oil until golden.

This all sounds very simple, although as usual, I did have a few mishaps along the way. My first problem was completely forgetting to pre-snip my chicken breasts into mini pieces before marinating. Do you have any idea how incredibly messy it is to cut chicken pieces into tidbit sized pieces after they have been coated in wet gloopy buttermilk? It wasn't pretty, although my hands did appreciate the buttermilk soak so maybe it wasn't such a horrible mistake after all ;)

My next problem was my pesky no-name plastic baggie with a slider top. Yes, you guessed it - the obvious happened here - the slider top tore and sent flour shaking across my floor. So once again, I had another mess to clean up, and by now, I was in a bit of a hurry, as I already had my oil heating up and my chicken was only partially coated in batter. I hastily threw in some extra flour, another shake of good old Lawry's, and dumped the contents of my torn bag into another baggie, holding this new bag closed tightly with my flour coated fingers. In the end, the chicken turned out tasty, although I still need to perfect the seasonings and work on a thicker batter.

For now, here is the recipe from test #1:

Homemade Popcorn Chicken, Take 1
(serves 2-4)

375 grams skinless boneless chicken breast tenders (the really skinny strips)
250 ml buttermilk
1 Tbsp Tabasco (don't worry, this won't make it spicy)

for flour dredging:
1 cup self rising flour, or more as needed
Lawry's seasoned salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste
dried herbs of your choice (I tried poultry seasoning, marjoram, thyme)

sunflower oil, for frying

Snip the chicken into very tiny pieces about the size of large pieces of popped popcorn. Combine chicken bits, buttermilk, and Tabasco in a dish and mix well, then cover and let marinate in the fridge at least an hour or longer if you have time.

Heat up enough oil to fry the chicken. Mix together flour and seasonings in a reliable zip-top type bag. Drain off the excess marinade and drop the chicken pieces into the bag. Seal bag and shake to coat chicken evenly. Drop about 10 pieces of chicken into the oil at a time, cooking just a few minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove with a mesh strainer to a wire rack set over a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Serve with dip of your choice, I like honey mustard personally. Sometimes, I skip the mustard and just dunk them in honey.

*Updated with a better photo


  1. YUM! I have a recipe for this and always wanted to try it too! Looks like it came out like a success! You've inspired me!

  2. Thanks :) I was pretty much happy with how it turned out, although next time I won't have the exploding bag to deal with and can get a more even coating and slightly thicker crust. Thanks for stopping by :)