The Ingredient That Makes Pan-Seared Chicken as Crispy as Nuggets

updated Aug 6, 2020
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Credit: Lauren Volo

Crispy chicken bites are beloved in my house — and not just because I have two school-aged kids. I love how cutting chicken into bite-sized pieces and crisping those pieces in a hot pan unlocks a myriad of dinner possibilities. Crispy chicken bites can top a dinner salad, fill out a basic pasta, and are perfect for pairing with dip for a snacky meal. But the one thing that slows my roll when it comes to making them is the thought of frying them.

It’s not that I’m afraid to fry chicken — I just dislike the effort and cleanup that comes with your standard “bread and deep-fry procedure” — especially on a weeknight. That’s why I was delighted to find a way to get golden, crispy chicken bites without having to resort to breading or frying. The secret? Wondra flour.

What Is Wondra Flour?

A few years ago we shared a recipe from Jacques Pépin for chicken bites that involved plenty of garlic and Wondra flour — an instant flour mix made by Gold Medal. Turns out that Wondra can get pan-fried chicken bites extra crispy on the outside (but not too dry on the inside) without breading or deep-frying.

Here’s how to do it: Cut your chicken into bite-sized pieces (I prefer to use thigh meat, but my kids like breast meat, so we do a mix of both). Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and then move them to a bowl or zip-top bag. Add 1 tablespoon of Wondra and a pinch of salt for every pound of chicken. Toss (or seal the bag and shake) to coat.

Put a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. I use my well-seasoned cast iron, but if you don’t have one, try a nonstick pan. (The chicken pieces will tend to stick much more to an ordinary pan.) Make sure the oil is shimmering hot — but not smoking — when you add the chicken pieces. Then cook until they’re crisp on each side. Now Pépin would tell you to add garlic, parsley, and butter to the pan to finish, but for everyday dinners I just add a little butter and maybe a few grinds of black pepper.

Now, the amazing thing is that these chicken bites are crispy enough to pass for nuggets. My two hungry kids will gobble them right up (as long as there’s BBQ sauce or ketchup for dipping). And that really is wonderous.