Digging into the cluckin' awesome world of our favorite fried food.
Chicken has become the most underrated of the edible animals. Sure, it's no pig or cow, but that doesn't mean we food-focused types should be as dismissive as we so often are. These days articles about and recipes for chicken typically start with a disclaimer noting that even though chicken is boring and bland, this particular preparation is good enough to tide you over until you happen upon a truly interesting food fauna, like goat or sheep or, of course and ad nauseum, duck.
Well I've had enough of this chicken bashing, and so have the good folks at KFC. Due to early '90s squeamishness over the word "fried," the KFC acronym's been neutered to the point where the "C" may no longer stand strictly for "chicken," but to me it still means "Come on by. We've got fantastic pot pies and some other decent stuff, and please check out our new Original Recipe Chicken Bites." So I did.
KFC's new bite-sized fried option features the least fashionable part of the least fashionable bird: chicken breast meat. As much as I love chicken, I will concede that the white meat isn't born with a ton of flavor. But that's no reason to avoid it, because it's every reason to fry it. And since KFC Popcorn Chicken is one of my favorite fast foods, I was quite excited for this latest excuse to eat cheap fried bird chunks.
KFC is offering 6 Bites for $3.49, or $3.99 with a drink and a side order if you're among the majority that realizes a root beer and a cup of mashed potatoes is always worth an extra half-dollar. That's a fair deal that was made fairer still on my trip, because the cook slipped me a seventh Bite. I'm not sure if the 18 percent tip was an attempt to bribe a Serious Eats reviewer, an honest mistake, or part of an effort to bring the Colonel down from the inside, one chicken chunk at a time, but whatever the case, I'm a happier man for the over-Bite, because these things are outstanding.
Original Recipe Bites are distinguished from the market-leading McNugget by their irregular shape and, more important, by their traditional fried chicken flavor. I like a McNugget or 20 on a hot summer day, but McDonald's has distorted the public's perception of the chicken nugget by offering a sui generis product that bears little resemblance to its forebears. The KFC Bite, on the more daring hand, is simply a hunk of fried chicken, just like all the others except for being better.
The shape shift to a more raggedy nugget serves a purpose beyond mere branding; the extra nooks and crannies create more surface area to coat with fried, which is ideal given that the key to KFC's success is the heavily peppered and perfectly salted Original Recipe exterior.
I foolishly opted to get Bitten between rush hours, so my chicken had likely been languishing for a bit by the time I got to it (it was a couple degrees cooler than I'd hoped), but it retained a satisfying crunch that allowed me to project excellence when it's served fresh from the oil.
The chicken itself was fine; nothing special, because even this chicken breast apologist accepts that white meat can fly only so high. But the firm-fleshed Bite bird did its job by having legitimate (if light) fowl flavor, holding the breading, and not adding an undue amount of grease to the proceedings.
KFC is pushing Original Recipe Bites as having a "distinctly grown-up taste." I presume by this they mean ORBs are a serious stand-alone protein not dependent on bells, whistles, and dipping sauces. I agree that it would be a mistake to hide the 11 herbs and spices beneath dolled-up ketchup or spicy mustard or any kind of Ranch anything. KFC Original Recipe Bites deserve to be treated with all the respect due to the best fast food chicken nuggets I've found.