For lunch today, I had two servings of popcorn chicken salad with spicy ranch dressing. It was so filling that I didn’t touch the newly cooked rice. I didn’t miss my carbs though because the chicken nuggets were coated with panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and bread is a source of carbs.
Toward the end of the meal, I remarked that I am quite okay with a salad-only meal if the salad has enough meat and fruits to satisfy. But, take away the meat and the fruits, and the salad would be inedible unless served a side salad to a main dish.
Alex replied, quite sassily, that without the chicken and fruits, it’s called “lettuce”, not salad.
“Lettuce and tomatoes,” I said because there was a generous amount of cherry tomatoes in the salad. But, as I now compose this blog post, I realize that my final reply in the conversation was not a hundred per cent correct.
Botanically, tomato is a fruit; we just use it in cooking as a vegetable. Tomato is a “fruit vegetable”, to be precise. So, yes, Alex is correct in pointing out that without the chicken and the fruits, it’s just “lettuce.” One point for the sassy daughter.
Why is the dish called popcorn chicken salad? Because it is a salad and popcorn chicken is the primary ingredient. And popcorn chicken is…???
Chicken nuggets. But, read on because there is a hairline distinction.
Here’s a photo of the popcorn chicken that did not go into the salad. Yes, I fried more chicken than we needed. So, we have leftovers that will probably become munchies before the day is over.
In America, popcorn chicken was first publicly introduced by KFC in 1992. The inventor is a food technologist named Gene Gagliardi who owns a patent for the way chicken thighs are cut to make popcorn chicken.
How could a meat cut be patented? Beats the hell out of me.
So, yes, popcorn chicken is just another name for chicken nuggets. Bite-sized pieces of chicken coated in flour (or bread crumbs) and deep fried until golden and crisp.
If we were to split hairs over the definition, however, it may be argued that popcorn chicken and chicken nuggets are not exactly the same because, in practice, commercial chicken nugget is made with ground chicken scrap (including skin and excess fat) while popcorn chicken is made with bite-sized chicken fillets.
Although I tend to use the terms “popcorn chicken” and “chicken nuggets” interchangeably, if we go by that strict(er) definition, this salad has popcorn chicken, not chicken nuggets.
Popcorn Chicken Salad With Spicy Ranch Dressing
- 4 to 5 large chicken thigh fillets
For the chicken seasoning
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme dried
For the salad
- 1 large head Romaine lettuce
- 2 kiwi fruits
- 2 ripe mangoes
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 1 recipe 2-minute Ranch Dressing
- 1 generous pinch cayenne powder
To fry the popcorn chicken
- 2 to 3 cups cooking oil
For the chicken breading
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 egg whites (explanation after the recipe)
- 1 and 1/2 cups panko (you may need more)
Pat the chicken thigh fillets dry. Cut into 1 and 1/2-inch cubes.
In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the chicken seasoning. Add the chicken cubes. Mix well. Cover the bowl and leave the chicken to marinate while you prepare the salad.
Rinse the Romaine lettuce. Tear into smaller pieces. Dump in the salad spinner and spin to dry.
Peel the kiwi fruits and mangoes, and cut into one-inch cubes.
Halve the cherry tomatoes.
Stir the cayenne powder into the Ranch dressing.
Toss the lettuce, kiwi, mangoes and cherry tomatoes with about a tablespoonful of the Ranch dressing.
Heat enough cooking oil in a wok or frying pan to reach a depth of two inches. The ideal temperature is 350F. If you don't have a thermometer, dip a bamboo skewer in the oil; if tiny bubbles form around it, the oil should be hot enough.
Place the flour, egg whites and panko in three shallow bowls.
Dredge each piece of chicken in flour, roll in egg whites then coat with panko.
Fry the breaded chicken in batches of 10 to 15 (depending on how wide your frying pan is) until golden and crisp. Scoop out and drain on a rack.
Pile half of the mixed salad in a bowl. Scatter popcorn chicken over it. Cover with the rest of the salad and top with more popcorn chicken. Drizzle Ranch dressing over everything.
Serve your popcorn chicken salad with spicy ranch dressing immediately.
If you're wondering why two egg whites were used instead of one whole egg, it's because Alex used two egg yolks for the dough of her buttermilk dinner rolls.
What were we to do with the egg whites, right? The upside is that using egg whites, and no yolk, resulted in crispier popcorn chicken.