Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets have been a long time coming at LEON. First conceived in a dream in 2013 by John, our co-founder, we’ve spent years working on them.
For the last 4 years, every year, without fail, we planned to give you GFC. And every year (until now) – with fail – we haven’t managed to do that.
We first trialled GFC in Spitalfields in September 2014. Served as a chicken thigh and drumstick on the bone, with a wedge of lemon and a pot of ketchup, we thought our ‘not so secret blend of herbs and spices’ was the one. We thought we’d cracked it. But it wasn’t quite right: the coating didn’t stay on and ‘people don’t like bones,’ we realised, ‘they want a proper nugget.’
So we went back to the drawing board. In Summer 2016 we offered you nuggetier nuggets, with a crispy baked coating made with rice flour, paprika and oregano. They were good but, we thought, we could do better. And by this point we were 3 years in, so another year wouldn’t hurt, right?
In 2017, to keep appetites sated, we published a recipe for coconut water-fried GFC in our cookbook, Fast and Free. It’s a delicious recipe but not one we could replicate in our restaurants as we’re very strict about not using fryers. Still, GFC was on the agenda and we got a bit more creative in the test kitchen: popcorn chicken, literally. Chicken coated in blitzed popcorn. We will be the first to tell you that we don’t always get it right.
But then, finally, earlier this year Erica (she’s our Head of Food) came in to the Marketing room with a plate of glistening chicken nuggets. She said she’d been working on something and asked if we wanted to try. She’d done it. As with all nuggets, it was under our nose all along. Sorry, that’s a booger joke and it’s not appropriate in this story, but we’ve said it now. The answer was easy: 100% British chicken thigh in a rice flour coating with a little bit of seasoning.
Cautious of our past learnings, we decided to trial it first in a few more restaurants before we launched it nationwide. When, on the first day, we learned that sales had tripled even our wildest estimations, we called our restaurants. “Make more, please. This is going to be big.”
And we think it might be. It’s what we always wanted to do when we started LEON, to prove that fast food can be good food. It can conjure up all of the same joy and nostalgia of our childhood, and comfort us when we’re worse for wear on a Sunday, and still be good food. 100% British chicken thigh, with your choice of sauce.
We’ve found the golden nugget.