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Make your own crunchy, crispy, dippy bites of chicken

Marialisa Calta
United Features Syndicate

Want your family to love dinner? Dip it in something sticky, coat it with something crunchy, and cook it until it’s crispy. This works with nearly all types of protein, from fish to tofu. Don’t believe it? I have two words for you: chicken nugget.

Before you start searching your cupboards for thiamine mononitrate, tapioca maltodextrin, sodium phosphate or any other of the 20-plus ingredients listed in a popular frozen nugget brand, rest assured that you can achieve maximum deliciousness with ingredients you can buy at the supermarket. And pronounce.

Enter Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat, Toronto-based sisters and authors of “Bite Me” (Kyle Books, 2010). The pair might be best described as “food provocateurs” for their saucy, witty, irreverent approach to food and cooking. “Bite Me” is quirky, funny, a bit edgy and a tad inappropriate; a perfect gift, in other words, for this spring’s college grad or hip young newlyweds.

And it seems to specialize in crunchy, crispy, crusty foods. There’s baked sea bass with a cracker topping, walnut-crusted halibut, praline-coated sweet potatoes and French toast with candied Rice Krispies.

In the “nugget-like” genre, there are tortilla-encrusted chicken slices and coconut-crusted shrimp. Both are accompanied by a tasty dipping sauce. And both are baked, not deep-fried. For some, this might address health concerns; but for others, it simply avoids the hassle and mess of deep-frying and renders the “what do I do with the used oil?” question moot.

Here are some other recipes that I have tried.

For tofu: Slice or cube extra-firm tofu, dip in a beaten egg, and dredge in a mixture of equal parts cornmeal and flour seasoned with salt and white pepper. Pan fry until crisp on all sides. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.

For fish: Dip filets or “fingers” of firm, fresh white fish in beaten egg and dredge in crushed, seasoned cornflakes. Bake in a pan containing 2 tablespoons of canola oil that have been heated in a 450 F oven. Serve with BBQ sauce for dipping.

Nuggets, but not.

CRUNCHY TORTILLA CHICKEN

WITH AVOCADO DIP

6 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves

1-1⁄2 cups sour cream

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder

2-1⁄2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

2 cups crushed tortilla chips

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup (to taste) canned jalapeno peppers, drained, patted dry and chopped

For the dipping sauce:

1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

1⁄2 cup sour cream

2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken pieces between two sheets of waxed paper, and pound to an even 1⁄2-inch thickness.

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, brown sugar, chili powder, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add the chicken, and toss to coat. Cover and let marinate for two hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the panko, tortilla crumbs, cheddar and jalapeno. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and coat each piece with the panko mixture, pressing down so the coating sticks well to each piece. Discard the marinade. Place the chicken on a prepared baking sheet, and bake 20 to 23 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

For the dip: Place all of the dip ingredients in a food processor, and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Serve with chicken.

Yield: 6 servings

• Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to http://www.marialisacalta.com.