I've got a thing for nuggets of crispy chicken. Not necessarily chicken nuggets — although good ones can fall in this category — but chicken that's been cut into chunks, is cooked until crispy, and takes well to eating in one or two bites. What can I say? I'm just looking for joy in the form of a salty, meaty, crunchy revelation.
When I came across this recipe in Jacques Pépin's book, Poulets & Legumes: My Favorite Chicken and Vegetables Recipes, I was a little surprised. I remember scanning through the ingredients and method, getting more excited as I went on. Did I just find my ideal chicken nugget? All signs were pointing to a golden, crispy yes. There was no breading step, no deep-frying, and no mess required. Instead, this recipe promised everything my crispy-chicken-loving heart desired, with the help of a bit of Wondra flour and a nonstick skillet. Garlic and parsley are added at the end for one final flourish of flavor, but it was the method behind preparing the chicken that really got me.
Jacques Pépin's Lemon-Garlic Chicken Breasts:
Watch the Video
The Wonders of Wondra
This is the sentence that sold me on this recipe: "Cubes of chicken breasts are dredged in flour, sautéed over high heat in oil and butter, and finished with garlic and parsley and some fresh lemon juice." As I'm reading it, I'm nodding my head yes because I can picture the final product — golden and crispy — but what I didn't picture was the Wondra flour. And the Wondra is the key.
Wondra is pretty much a finely milled flour that's been precooked. When it hits the heat or comes in contact with liquid it doesn't clump up, which creates a light and crispy coating on the chicken that never gets thick or gummy. You can substitute all-purpose flour "if you must" as Jacques suggests — but, friends, the Wondra is worth it.
The garlic and parsley added at the end is a nice touch, but I consider it just one way to make this dish (the very elegant way). Most of the time, you find me dunking these chicken bites into barbecue sauce with glee.
Jacques Pépin's Garlic Chicken Breasts with Garlic and Parsley
boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 7 ounces each), cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes
freshly ground black pepper
chopped fresh parsley leaves
medium lemon, quartered
Dry the chicken cubes with paper towels and place in a medium bowl. Add the flour, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the chicken cubes and cook in one layer, turning occasionally, until cooked through, about 3 1/2 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the garlic and parsley in a small bowl.
Add the butter and the parsley mixture to the skillet and sauté for 1 minute longer, shaking the skillet occasionally to coat the chicken.
To serve, divide among four plates, add a wedge of lemon to each plate, and serve within 15 minutes.
Wondra flour substitute: All-purpose flour can be substituted for the Wondra flour.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.