Vegan ‘Chicken’ Nuggets

This is a little something for kids and grown-ups alike. Sure, you can buy these already frozen in the supermarket, but nothing beats making them yourself. For one thing, you know exactly what’s going into them. It’s surprisingly easy to make a chicken substitute, but there is one ingredient you’ll need that you won’t find at the supermarket. Vital wheat gluten is what binds this recipe together and gives it it’s firm ‘meaty’ texture. It is also the key ingredient in this and lots of other meat substitute recipes. I bought mine from Amazon, but there are other online places you can get it, as well as some health food stores.

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This batch of basic vegan ‘chicken’ breast can be used in most recipes where you want a chicken substitute, including shaping it into a fillet and pan-frying it. I’m going to focus on chicken-style nuggets here, but I’ll be referring back to this recipe for a bunch of other dishes later on. You can use it as soon as you make it, but it does bind and shape much better if you make it the day before, or at least give it a few hours to chill in the fridge, giving the gluten time to do its magic.

You’ll need a food-processor, not a blender. A food processor runs more slowly and chops and mixes the food together, which is what you want here. You blitz it until it comes together into a large doughball, and that really is about as complicated as making this stuff gets. All you do then is chill it in an airtight container. There’s also nothing to stop you making a few batches and freezing some for later use. You could either freeze it as one block, or shape it into what you want first and then freeze it. If it’s properly wrapped it’ll last a couple of months in the freezer.

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Prep time: 10 minutes, plus chilling and setting time. Cooking time for the nuggets: about 8 minutes per batch.

Makes about 28 nuggets.

For the ‘Chicken’:
1 x 400g block firm tofu, drained
1 cup (140g) vital wheat gluten
Juice of 1 lemon
½ small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or grated with a fine grater
A dash of black pepper
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp water, if the mixture seems too dry.

For the Batter:
150g plain flour
2 tbsp gram flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic granules
½ tsp Cajun seasoning
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp Dijon mustard
350ml plant-based milk

You Will Also Need:
150ml plant milk, to dip the nuggets in
100g gram flour for dusting the nuggets
Enough vegetable or sunflower oil for deep frying.

To make the ‘chicken’ substitute, put all the ingredients, apart from the water, into a food processor and blitz until it forms a doughball. This takes about 90 seconds. Check to see if it feels a little dry and, if it does, add the 2 tablespoons of water and blitz again. If you are unsure, just add the water anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?
Take the blade out for safety and then remove the doughball from the food processor. Pack the dough into an airtight container and place in the fridge, preferably overnight but at least for a few hours.
When the dough is ready, remove it from the container and tear off small pieces about the size of a large marble. Roll each one into a ball and then place it in the circle made by touching the index finger and thumb of one hand. Use the fingers of the other hand to press the dough into a nugget shape. I’ve provided a video of this for you below. Do this until all the dough is used up.
Now make the batter by putting all the batter ingredients, apart from the milk, into a mixing bowl and then gradually whisking in the milk, until you have a reasonably lump-free mixture.
Now take two more bowls and pour the 150ml of milk into one and the 100g gram flour into the other. Line the containers up so that you have milk on the left, flour in the middle and batter on the right.

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Fill a saucepan half full with the vegetable oil and heat, on a medium heat, to frying temperature. DO NOT fill the pan more than half full.
Take about 8 nuggets and place them in the milk for just a moment, then take them out and put them in the gram flour. Shake them in the bowl until they are fully coated and then lift them, one at a time, from the flour. Pat off any excess flour in your hands and then drop the nuggets, again one at a time, into the batter. Carry the batter over to the pan of hot oil, then test that it is hot enough by dropping a small amount of batter into it. It will sizzle and float if it is hot enough.
Gently lift each nugget from the batter and place it into the oil until all 8 are submerged. After they have been cooking for about 30 seconds, stir them with a slotted spoon to separate any that have stuck together. Be very careful when doing this to not splash any of the oil onto yourself.
Cook the batch for about 8-10 minutes, until they are golden brown then lift them out of the oil with the slotted spoon and onto a plate containing kitchen paper or a tea towel. Allow them to drain for a few minutes while you prepare the next batch. Transfer the cooked nuggets onto a baking tray and keep warm in a low oven while you continue cooking the others. Do this until all the nuggets are gone, then keep them warming in the oven until you are ready to serve them.

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