Spicy Fried Chicken Bites with Buttermilk Ranch

published Aug 26, 2022
Spicy Fried Chicken Bites with Buttermilk Ranch Recipe

Chicken thighs make these nuggets extra tender. An herby homemade buttemilk ranch dressing is the perfect dipper.

Serves4

Prep35 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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chicken bites with ranch on plate
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The combo of chicken nuggets and ranch immediately brings back childhood memories. And although fast-food nuggets can do the job in a pinch, nothing beats my mom’s homemade version.

Depending on the day, the chicken was cut into strips or bite-sized pieces, breaded with egg and seasoned flour, fried until extra crispy, then tossed in more seasonings. By the time the smell of fried chicken filled the house, I was already grabbing the ranch dressing and making my way to the dinner table. Lacking the patience to allow the chicken to cool off, I was always sure to burn my mouth while enjoying the delicacy in front of me. Looking back, I now know that my mother appreciated how fast I ate the nuggets because it was one step closer to bedtime for her and me. 

One of my favorite things about making chicken nuggets at home, besides the fact that I can make them exactly how I like them, is that they don’t require a trip to the store. The dry rub is made from pantry staples (brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika, if you’ve got it), and the breading is just the classic combo of seasoned flour and beaten eggs. If you have chicken thighs in the fridge or freezer, you’re ready to go.

As a Midwesterner, ranch dressing was a staple at our dinner table. You can use the classic packet (or the bottle) for the dipping sauce here, but I’d highly suggest you give my homemade ranch a try. You won’t regret it.

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

What’s So Great About These Nuggets?

  • Chicken thighs: I prefer to use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts for my nuggets because thighs are much harder to overcook and have a deeper flavor than chicken breasts.
  • Dry rub: A dry rub is often added to meat before cooking, but here I toss the fried nuggets in the spice blend for a smoky-sweet-spicy finishing touch. I love how the dry rub adds an extra layer of flavor to the crispy chicken and creates a sweet and spicy experience with each bit.
  • Buttermilk ranch: The homemade ranch (buttermilk, sour cream, mayo, plus herbs) is the perfect cooling complement to the spicy nuggets. Once you make a batch of this dressing I suspect that you might keep making it for all of your salad and dipping needs.

Both the dry rub and the ranch dressing can be made ahead of time so you can focus on the chicken frying. If you don’t have time to prep in advance, this recipe is the perfect opportunity to get other folks in your house involved in the kitchen. Maybe years later they’ll be whipping up a batch in their own kitchen, just like me.

Spicy Fried Chicken Bites with Buttermilk Ranch Recipe

Chicken thighs make these nuggets extra tender. An herby homemade buttemilk ranch dressing is the perfect dipper.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Serves4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the ranch dressing:

  • 1/4 bunch

    fresh chives

  • 1/4 cup

    buttermilk

  • 1/4 cup

    mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup

    sour cream

  • 2 teaspoons

    dried dill

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

For the dry rub:

  • 1 tablespoon

    packed light brown sugar

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    smoked paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper

For the fried chicken:

  • 6

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    smoked paprika

  • 1 teaspoon

    garlic powder or granulated garlic

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 4 cups

    (1 quart) vegetable oil, for deep frying

Instructions

Make the ranch dressing:

  1. Finely chop 1/4 bunch fresh chives until you have 2 tablespoons and place in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup buttermilk, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sour cream, 2 teaspoons dried dill, 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Make the dry rub:

  1. Place 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine.

Make the fried chicken:

  1. Heat 4 cups vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until 375ºF. Meanwhile, fit a wire rack onto a baking sheet, then line the rack with paper towels. Season and bread the chicken.

  2. Quarter 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Season all over with 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper.

  3. Place 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate and stir to combine. Place 2 large eggs in a second wide, shallow bowl and whisk to break up.

  4. Bread the chicken: Working with 2 to 3 pieces at a time, place in the eggs and flip to coat. Let the excess drip back into the bowl and transfer the chicken to the flour mixture. Toss to coat, shaking off any excess flour, and place on a second baking sheet in a single layer.

  5. Add half of the chicken to the hot oil one piece at a time. Fry, flipping halfway through, until cooked through, an internal temperature of at least 165ºF, and golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer to the paper towels. Fry the remaining chicken.

  6. Transfer all of the fried chicken to the bowl with the dry rub and toss until coated. Serve with the reserved ranch dressing.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The ranch dressing and dry rub can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in separate airtight containers. Refrigerate the dressing and store the dry rub at room temperature.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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