Do you have any fond memories of strolling through a Chick-fil-A drive thru? Or jonesing for one bite of a nugget on a Sunday afternoon, when every single Chick-fil-A in existence is closed?
I know I do.
If so, you’re probably familiar with their scrumptious, thick, sweet, and tangy Polynesian sauce & crispy, salty, seasoned chicken nuggets. Together, the two of them find their place upon fast food’s throne of ultimate meals.
Simply because I don’t eat fast food, doesn’t mean I won’t embrace its contributions to the culinary world, which is why we’re taking the idea of chicken nuggets and polynesian sauce and transform them to be meat-free, grain-free, egg-free, and trans fat free!
That may sound like heresy to some, to which I would say – pardon my Alton Brown writing voice – “with proper technique, understanding how the original product is produced, and some healthy substitutes, tempeh nuggets and polynesian sauce are a nostalgic dive into childhood eats.”
To construct quality Polynesian sauce, we simply read the ingredients of Chick-fil-A’s own variation then back-engineered this recipe from there. The main ingredient of their’s is sugar, which we substitute with a mixture of erythritol and stevia extract – the combination of which create a sweet taste that’s more akin to actual sugar than just stevia.
Next up, the spices and flavorants come in the form of dijon mustard for bite, paprika for color and flavor, granulated onion powder, granulated garlic powder, salt, tamarind paste for color & tang, and finally apple cider vinegar for even more tang. Arrowroot starch is used to thicken up the sauce as it takes a small amount to thicken up a lot of liquid; in this case, 1 tablespoon for 1 cup of water.
The tempeh nuggets themselves are cut into large, chunks, appropriate for one huge bite or two-medium sized bites. To moisturize & tenderize the nuggets -as well as infuse them with flavor – we boil them in water, tamari, and apple cider vinegar. The water adds moisture, the tamari adds savory depth and saltniness, and the apple cider vinegar adds an acidic punch, which lends it an aspect of real, brined chicken.
After boiling the tempeh, it goes through a battering process similar to that of southern fried chicken. First, tempeh is coated in starch, then an “egg wash,“ and finally a mixture of seasonings. The starch is important as it allows the “egg wash” to strongly adhere to the tempeh. And the “egg wash” is important because it allows for a significant amount of seasoning to be applied, which makes for big flavor and big crunch. Mmmm.
As you can probably guess, our “egg wash” isn’t beaten up egg. Instead, it’s made from a mixture of flax meal and water, the combination of which replicate the effect that eggs have in this process. I know it sounds strange to coat something so savory in a mixture of flaxseeds, but its flavor are so subtle that they go completely unnoticed in the final dish.
After they’re liberally coated, battered, and seasoned, they meet their match in the fryer… which is really just a pan with some olive oil in it. Thus, this recipe calls for more olive oil than we would normally use, but very little of it is actually absorbed by the tempeh, and the leftover oil can be strained for use in future cooking adventures.
If the idea of frying your nuggets in that much oil still gives you the eeby-geebees, then consider this: just as much oil is absorbed here as would normally be absorbed in a pan frying session. Cool, huh?
All in all, we hope you enjoy this vegan, lectin-limited rendition of Chick-fil-A nuggets and Polynesian Sauce! This meal is: handheld, crispy, sweet & savory, and remiscent of childhood.
If you like what your taste buds are tellin’ ya, leave behind a nice rating, share your thoughts with us in the comments, or show us your creations by tagging @noeggsorham on Instagram.
Ryan & Kim
Polynesian Sauce & Tempeh Nuggets
Savory, nutritional yeast breaded tempeh chunks fried in olive oil, served with sweet & tangy Polynesian Sauce; a meal to cure the Chick-fil-A cravings.
- 8 oz tempeh, cut into 1 inch cubes*
- 2 tbsp tamari sauce
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 c olive oil, extra virgin preferred
- water for cooking
- 3 tbsp cassava flour*
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp granulated onion
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (less or more, depending on spice preference)
- 1 tbsp flax meal + 5 tbsp water
- 1 c water
- 1/4 c erythritol or xylitol (crystalline alcohol sugars)
- 1 tbsp arrowroot starch
- 1 1/2 tsp tamarind paste
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp each paprika
- 1/2 tsp granulated onion
- 1/4 tsp granulated garlic
- 1/4 tsp liquid stevia extract
- In a 10 inch non-stick pan over high heat, combine tempeh chunks, tamari sauce, apple cider vinegar, and enough water to come half way up the sides of the tempeh. Keep over high heat until all the water has evaporated. Turn off the heat, remove tempeh cubes to a plate, and set aside.
- In a mason jar with a fitted lid, tupperware container, or personal sized blender, combine all of the ingredients listed under Polynesian Sauce. Vigorously shake for at least 1 minute. Transfer to a small non-stick pot.
- Bring sauce to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Turn heat down to medium and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this time, you can keep the sauce over low-heat – adding a touch more water as needed – for a warm dipping sauce, or you can transfer the sauce to a bowl then place in the fridge until the for a room temperature/chilled dipping sauce (this is my preferred method).
- To one small bowl, add cassava flour. In another small bowl, whisk together flax & water mixture. In a third small bowl, mix together nutritional yeast, onion, thyme, black pepper, salt, and cayenne.
- To bread tempeh, roll around one nugget in cassava flour until coated on every side, then dust off the excess flour. Move to flax mixture and toss around to coat every side with batter, then wipe off the excess batter into the bowl. Move to nutritional yeast mixture and roll around until every side is covered, then dust off the excess. Place breaded nugget onto a clean plate.
- Repeat step 5 for remaining nuggets.
- Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a small, 8-inch non-stick pan, over medium heat. Once oil shimmers & glistens, add in 4-6 nuggets and cook until golden brown on bottom side, should take about 2 minutes. Carefully flip every nugget – spring loaded tongs are my favorite tool for this job – and cook until golden brown on following side, about another 2 minutes. Transfer fried nuggets to a plate fitted with a double layer of paper towels to remove any excess oil.
- Repeat step 7 for remaining nuggets.
- Tip: If the oil starts to smoke, splatter, smell bad, or tempeh browns within 30-60 seconds, turn the heat down. If the oil doesn’t sizzle when tempeh is added and they take 4-5 minutes to brown per side, turn the heat up. You’ll likely have to adjust the heat several times throughout the process.
- Serve tempeh nuggets while hot alongside plenty of Polynesian dipping sauce. Store leftover sauce in the fridge for up to 1 week.
*Cut tempeh into smaller pieces for crisper, more heavily battered nuggets, or cut into bigger pieces for meatier, more tender nuggets.
*If you don’t have cassava flour, try using sorghum flour, coconut flour, tapioca starch, or arrowroot starch in its place. While I haven’t tried these substitutes myself, they’ll likely produce similar results.