These Buffalo tenders put Super Bowl grub in the healthy zone
By SARA MOULTON
First, a confession. I don't watch the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, I rarely even know who is playing. Still, I'm well aware that it is far and away America's largest secular holiday and that the celebration requires not only watching the game on television, but also eating a hefty snack or meal while doing so.
Naturally, such a manly event calls for manly cuisine, designed to be eaten by hand and that will stick to the ribs. The key food groups are meat and melted cheese, preferably deep-fried.
Buffalo-style chicken wings and chicken nuggets are just the sort of deep-fried deliciousness we're talking about. And my recipe marries the two and, incredibly, does so in a way that simultaneously satisfies the soul and keeps the blood whistling through the old arteries.
My biggest challenge in the creation of this recipe was to construct a crisp crust without a vat of fat.
I worked out a delicious home-style version of chicken nuggets that requires no deep-frying years ago. I started with chicken tenders, those little flaps of chicken meat attached to the underside of each chicken breast. I tenderized each tender — including the tendon — by soaking it in well-seasoned buttermilk before cooking it. I coated it with a mixture of breadcrumbs and panko (for extra crunch) and sauteed it in olive oil.
But even sauteed chicken nuggets can be fairly caloric because the crumb coating soaks up oil like a sponge. I solved that problem for this version of the recipe by using vegetable oil cooking spray on the chicken and cooking it not in a pan, but in the top third of a hot oven.
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BUFFALO CHICKEN TENDERS
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons hot sauce (my favorite for this recipe is Tabasco Chipotle), divided
2 cups plus 6 tablespoons buttermilk, divided
1 pound chicken tenders (or chicken breasts cut into 3- by 1-inch strips, ½ inch thick)
¾ cup whole wheat Italian seasoned bread crumbs
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup low-fat mayonnaise
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
½ teaspoon lemon juice
In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce and 2 cups of the buttermilk. Whisk until the salt is dissolved. Add the chicken tenders and stir to coat well with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 10 hours.
When ready to cook, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray it with olive oil cooking spray.
In a shallow bowl, combine the whole wheat and panko bread crumbs. In another small bowl, whisk together the remaining 6 tablespoons of buttermilk, the mayonnaise, blue cheese and lemon juice. Transfer to a ramekin for dipping. Pour the remaining ¼ cup of hot sauce into a second ramekin for dipping.
Use a colander to drain the chicken, but do not pat it dry. Dip each chicken piece in the bread crumb mixture, making sure it is coated well on both sides. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, then spritz the tops with olive oil cooking spray.
Bake on the oven's middle shelf for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until they are just cooked through. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a platter. Serve with both dipping sauces.
Nutritional information per serving: 300 calories (80 calories from fat, 27 percent of total calories), 9g fat (3g saturated, 0g trans fats), 80mg cholesterol, 22g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 5g sugar, 33g protein, 1,120mg sodium.