These nuggets were probably one of the most difficult recipes I’ve ever developed: I went through at least 15 versions until I finally had a EUREKA! a moment with this present version. Partly because one of the things I miss most as a vegetarian is fried chicken tenders dipped in my holy trinity of sauces: ranch, BBQ, and honey mustard so I had high standards and expectations, and partly because it is a damn hard thing to recreate out of a piece of fruit. I started out with the idea of using chunks of jackfruit, mostly the core part of the wedge, since when you bite into them they do highly resemble a chunk of chicken breast. And while it LOOKED cool, and the TEXTURE was awesome, every single variation still TASTED like a canned piece of jackfruit. I tried buttermilk marinating overnight, boiling in fake chicken broth, spice rubbing, salt brining, you name it – nothing worked. I tried 6 different coatings and batters and frying methods. But nothing was right. Every recipe I’ve ever created with jackfruit relied on the unifying principle that when treaded the right way with a ton of sauce and spices, the jackfruit took on the flavor of those spices and sauces when cooked long enough. In this whole chunk bread and fry technique, there was not enough cook time to impart that flavor so I finally abandoned ship. I finally realized that the only way I was going to get a chicken-like flavor inside the fried chicken breading was to get the jackfruit into small enough pieces that the flavor of whatever I was adding would permeate those pieces, so I decided to grind it up like those old school McDonald’s chicken nuggets we all know and love to hate. I tried seasoning the ground mixture but it wound up having a funny color and was too intense in a spice flavor without having anything chicken-like about it.
Then, I remembered this crazy broth I made for my matzah ball soup a few weeks ago, something that tasted so much like chicken I was floored. I had used these all natural No-Chicken cubes from Whole Foods, at a highly concentrated level, and added just enough oil to give the mouth feel of a chicken stock. I decided that if I concentrated it even more, and simmered the jackfruit in it to soak up all the flavor, I had a shot at transforming the jackfruit flavor into chicken. And then, I realized if I added enough of the right spices to the breading instead of the filling, just like real fried chicken, that those spices would flavor the jackfruit while you chewed. And what better spices to instantly make you think of fried chicken? The KFC secret spice blend (thanks mom for that idea!). And by George it FINALLY worked! I literally “woo-hoo’d” out loud alone in my kitchen! I’m so happy to be able to share these with you, and even if you hate them just tell me you like them because I couldn’t bear having to re-work them again ?
The whole reason I worked my butt off to get these right was for an upcoming class. When working to brainstorm my first class to teach at my favorite market/cooking school/Southern staples emporium, Southern Seasons, there was no doubt in my mind that I NEEDED to bring the glorious wonders of Jackfruit to the South. In my time here so far, I have yet to see jackfruit on a single restaurant menu, despite the fact that it’s wildly available at the local Asian markets, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s and it just breaks my damn heart. Now, North Carolina, and the South in general, is not known for their love of Vegetarianism (I even think there may be as many pigs as there are people here), but this little progressive triangle section of the state I’m living in does have a disproportionate amount of open minded crunchy-granola folks, and I do hope that translates to openness in the world of plant-based food. That said, I know I’ll be playing to a traditionally meat-inclined crowd, but luckily that’s my specialty! I knew I already had an epic jackfruit recipe in my Jackfruit BBQ Pulled Pork that I’ve been making for years, a dish that has fooled several meat eaters in my life, but that I still needed two more cross-the-aisle recipes that would make Southern meat-eaters swoon. I have a huge cache of jackfruit recipes for curries and tacos and stews but I wanted to make this class menu relatively Southern, so I spent a couple weeks in the kitchen testing and tinkering until I came up with two, pretty damn delicious, and definitively comfort food-esque, recipes: The Jackfruit Tuna Melt and the Jackfruit Fried Chicken Nugget!
Here in lies the nugget recipe, and you can find the tuna melt recipe here!
Also! I tested all my recipes with a few different brands of canned jackfruit, two from my local Asian market, one from Trader Joe’s, and one from Whole Foods. I did not test with fresh jackfruit, as I can only get the ripe fruity jackfruit here instead of the young green jackfruit needed for savory recipes. Check out my guide and recommendations here.
Nugget Filling Ingredients
- 4 cups jackfruit parts (seeds, cores, whatever you have) from canned Young Green Jackfruit
- 4 cubes of Edward & Son’s Not Chick’n Cubes (I found at Whole Foods)
- 4 cups water
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- A gallon of vegetable Oil to deep-fry
KFC Secret Spice Mix Ingredients
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried celery seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried mustard
- 3 tablespoons dried paprika
- 2 tablespoons dried garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon dried ground ginger
- 3 tablespoons dried white pepper
Flour coating Ingredients
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup KFC spice mix
- 1/2 cup sparkling water
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon KFC spice mix
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Bring No-Chicken cubes, water and oil to a boil in a medium pot. Add jackfruit pieces, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove jackfruit, drain, and place in the freezer for a few minutes until it is cool enough to handle. Squeeze the jackfruit dry by twisting inside a kitchen towel. You need to remove excess moisture or your nuggets will be mushy inside. Fluff with your fingers.
- Pulse your jackfruit in a food processor until it has the consistency of ground meat.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the jackfruit with the flour and a pinch of salt. Mix in the eggs and stir to combine well.
- Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap or parchment paper.
- Form jackfruit mix into 1 inch balls, place on the lined baking sheet, and then flatten and form into nuggety shapes. Transfer the sheet to the freezer and chill the nuggets until frozen. It took mine one hour, and I flipped them halfway through.
- When you’re ready to bread and fry, set up your breading station.
- Combine all the flour coating ingredients into a gallon ziplock bag. Combine all the batter ingredients in a large mixing bowl (you want to do this right before breading so the bubbles from the soda water stay bubbly to keep your batter light and airy).
- Add oil to a deep fryer or large dutch oven and heat to 350 degrees.
- While the oil is heating, bread your nuggets.
- Take the frozen nuggets, add them to the ziplock bag, and shake to coat. Remove from the bag, shaking any excess flour off of them, and then transfer to the batter. Toss to thoroughly coat, then add them back to the flour bag, and give them a final vigorous shake. Remove them from the bag, shaking off any excess coating, and set them on a wire baking rack.
- When your oil has reached temperature, carefully add your nuggets to the pot or fryer. Depending on the size of your vessel, you’ll probably want to do this in two-three batches to prevent overcrowding, ensuring an even and perfectly golden fry.
- Fry your nuggets for about 5-7 minutes, or until they are perfectly golden. Remove from oil, place back on the wire rack or a paper towel lined baking sheet to drain.
- Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauces!
- If you want to make them a bit ahead of time, slightly under-fry them, then, when you’re ready to serve, give them a final dip in the oil to bring them to gold!
- The KFC spice mix is modified and pulled from a few sources, including Wikipedia and The Kitchn. The breading is modified from a Tastemade recipe and my Grandma’s fried chicken recipe.