Fried chicken and potato salad are a favorite summertime combo. Still, to enjoy it the old-fashioned way – the way my mother made it – with bone-in, battered deep-fried chicken and potato salad mixed with lots of chopped celery, pickles and eggs takes so much time and makes a bit of a mess in the kitchen.
On a warm summer evening, I decided to see if I could come up with a weeknight version, a simpler approach to the classic picnic dishes.
For the chicken, I substituted boneless, skinless breasts, cutting them into two-bite chunks. I coated each piece with a bit of Creole mustard and then pressed each into highly seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan. I tried baking them several ways, including on a rack set inside a baking sheet, but I was not satisfied.
Then, a colleague here gave me a tip: She adds a generous slick of oil to a rimmed baking sheet when baking breaded chicken. This way the sizzle of the hot oil creates a crunchy bottom while the rest of the chicken crisps in the oven.
Tahini came to the rescue for the potato salad. It adds rich flavor, with a bit of oil and lemon for just the right consistency. I tossed creamy, quick-cooking baby potatoes with fresh parsley and scallions in that come-together-in-minutes dressing.
To round out the meal, I added boiled corn on the cob and a few salted red, ripe tomato slices – like summer on a plate.
I may still pull out the Dutch oven and make myself a batch of golden fried chicken before the fall arrives, but this is the way to go on a weeknight, when I want to scratch that summer picnic itch.
Baked Chicken Nuggets With Warm Potato Salad
For the potato salad
2 pounds thin-skinned small new potatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup sliced scallions, about 1 large
For the chicken
2 tablespoons canola oil or any neutral oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup (about ¾ ounce) plain bread crumbs
½ cup (about 1 ½ ounces) panko bread crumbs
½ cup (about 1 ¾ ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ to ¾ cup Creole mustard, or any spicy mustard
Cook the potatoes: Put the potatoes in a pot with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, add a large pinch of salt and boil until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a thin skewer or paring knife, about 15 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and transfer them to a cutting board. Let the potatoes cool for at least 5 minutes, or until cool enough to the touch, then cut into bite-size pieces.
Make the chicken: While potatoes are boiling, position a baking rack in center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil to a large, rimmed baking sheet.
Cut the chicken into approximately 1-inch to 1 ½-inch pieces. In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the plain and panko bread crumbs, cheese, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper until combined. In a small, shallow bowl, add the mustard.
Dip each of the chicken pieces in the mustard, so they are lightly coated. Then press each piece into the bread crumb mixture, coating all sides. Place the coated chicken on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken, making sure none of the pieces are touching.
Roast the nuggets for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pieces are golden brown and register 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Make the potato salad: While chicken is roasting, in a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice and pepper until combined. Stir in the parsley. Add the potatoes and scallions to the bowl and gently toss with the dressing just until coated. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.
Serve the chicken and potato salad warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 4 servings
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