Sunday, February 27, 2011

Golden, crunchy chicken nuggets. Nutrition and sedition in the nanny-less state

Some children will eat anything. The Pintos (my two nephews) will eat chicken, in nugget, ‘tuckey’ (that is, Kentucky Fried Chicken) and grilled form. That’s about it. And frozen vegetable mix with rehydrated mash potato. And ice berg lettuce. And ice-cream, chocolate, cake, ice-cream, cheese, chips (crisps and fries), pancakes with honey and bananas. Ok, so there are probably fussier children.

Home made chicken nuggets, crumbed with the crumbs of stale bread, baked and not deep fried, served with salad and vegetables manages to satisfy their limited appetites without destroying my principles.

Although I swear they can tell the difference. And to them, homemade is simply not as good. It lacks the salt and oil of pre-prepared chicken nuggets. The bread from which I make crumbs is multigrain, sourdough, denser and not as sweet or salty as a commercial crumb mix or batter. The vegetables are not as soft. The mash potatoes never as weirdly smooth as rehydrated powder (which I have never tasted and therefore cannot know how on earth I would emulate it).

And it’s hard work. Crumbing chicken (dip in milk, dip in flour, dip in egg, dip in crumbs ...), boiling potatoes then mashing them, dicing and blanching vegetables. I do this once in a blue moon. I get why countless parents don’t. It’s because they have something else to do with those several hours. Every day.

But what I don’t get is how chicken nuggets, of all things, became the food that children eat (also frozen fish fingers, a culinary abomination I cannot fathom). There are lots of things we could serve to children that take no time and do not come highly processed and swimming is sugar, salt and fat. And yet we, as a general culture, collectively facilitate frozen nuggets and frozen vegetables (which are actually not significantly processed, being snap frozen with little added to them) and pizza and packets of chips and muesli bars and cookies.

I’ll admit I don’t know the first thing about raising children. But the “food” we, as a society, now feed and make available to children, is also the food that we are collectively consuming as adults. Pre-prepared and packaged and frozen and take away foods. Foods low in nutrients and high in calories. Foods which don’t feature adequate vegetables and fruits. Foods with added fats and sugars and salts, well beyond what we need.

Our children may well recover from the food we feed them (although the stats are not encouraging. More children are more overweight than ever before recorded. Similarly, more adults. We will die fat but not alone). But we adults (on the whole) have not really demonstrated that we know any better. That we are able or willing to eat any differently.

Governments do little to intervene. Heaven forbid ‘they’ tell ‘us’ what to eat. But when say we don’t believe in the nanny state we are effectively saying ‘let us choose to make ourselves and our children sick’. When we compound this idiocy by further criticising ‘big taxes’ – which pay for schools and education programs and public health campaigns and hospitals – we are saying ‘please also make it impossible for us to treat the consequent illnesses’. No one is to blame, we are all to blame.

We buy convenient food because it is convenient. The price we pay – in dollars and in time – is simply not commensurate to the sugar-fat payload. Of course, there are healthy, cheap, quick alternatives. Salads. Lentils. Steamed vegetables. Brown rice. Fresh fruit. Porridge. Chickpeas. But they don’t taste nearly so sweet-salty-tasty (just like heroin is so much more effective than paracetamol).

Make it from scratch. Not every time, but once or twice. Know the effort that goes into making good food. Understand the ingredients. Read the labels. Read the nutritional information. If governments and business refuse to take responsibility for our health and wellbeing, and we refuse to let them, then let’s grow up and take responsibility for ourselves.

Crunchy baked chicken nuggets with sourdough crumbs

Serves 6

1 kg chicken meat, trimmed of skin, sinew and fat. Cut into bite sized peices
½ loaf stale sourdough bread
3 cloves garlic
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 ½ cups cornmeal (ie, semolina or polenta)

Preheat oven to 190ºc. Line two baking trays with baking paper and lightly brush with olive oil.

Cut the bread into chunks and blitz in a food processor with the garlic until finely crumbed. Season with salt and pepper and a little paprika (optional). Emply into a large bowl or plate.

Beat the eggs together in a dessert bowl, add about 2 tsbp water or milk. Set aside.

Pour the milk into a separate dessert bowl, set aside.

Place the cornmeal into a large bowl or plate.

From left to right, arrange the milk, cornmeal, egg and breadcrumbs.

Dip a chicken piece into the milk, then coat in cornmeal, then dip into the egg and then press into the bread crumbs. Place on the baking tray, and repeat.

Cook in the oven for approximately twelve minutes, turn each nugget over and cook for a further three to five minutes. They should be golden and crunchy (to test if cooked, cut one in half. It’s not rocket science).

Serve with blanched vegetables and homemade tomato sauce.

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