Americans seem to always be in a hurry and in their cars. So it's no wonder that food is constantly being made to cook faster and be portable.
Popcorn chicken--small bite-size pieces of poultry that have been breaded or battered and fried--are popular with consumers who like to grab their food on the run.
Popcorn chicken has been popular in the South for centuries. The small "chicken bites" were easy to pack in lunch boxes and made for more genteel dining with a fork.
Poorer Southerners and slaves often had to "make do" or use every bit of a chicken. Smaller pieces of chicken were often fried together, thus creating the chicken bite dishes.
The term "popcorn chicken" is a more modern moniker, used because the small cubes of chicken resemble popcorn after being fried.
Industry giant KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) introduced popcorn chicken in the early 1990s. The menu item has remained a staple, but the company periodically pulls it off the menu and then reintroduces the popular snack. Other fast food chains sell similar products.
When popcorn chicken was first introduced by fast food chains, consumers worried that the ingredients were not "real" chicken, or discarded less desirable pieces of chicken. Today, most fast food chains list "white breast meat" as the main ingredient. Breading and spices can vary depending on the chain.
Fried chicken is not traditionally a healthy dish. It's often deeply breaded and fried in oil. To give the chicken flavor, many fast food restaurants rely on spices such as salt.
According to the nutritional information on one fast food chain's popcorn chicken, a serving (usually about 20 pieces) has as much as 1,200 mg of sodium and 380 calories.
Popcorn chicken is easy to make, and a healthy version can be made at home.
2 pounds chicken (cut into small cubes)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
Spices of your choice (onion powder, garlic, chili powder)
Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Combine ingredients and set chicken in a bowl with enough milk to cover the chicken. Stir to mix spices. Set in refrigerator to marinate for about 30 minutes.
Remove a few pieces at a time, dip into Panko and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- Wilson, Charles & Eric Schlosser; Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food; Houghton Mifflin. New York; 2006.
- Gunderson, Mary; Southern Plantation Cooking; Capstone Press. New York; 2000.
- Photo Credit C. Snyder