Nutritious Crispy Chicken Meals

Bake up a batch

Nutritious Crispy Chicken Meals

All is not lost for those who love crispy fried chicken but can’t stomach the fat. Try this healthy fried chicken recipe and its equally healthful side dishes.

Chef’s delight

Vancouver luminary Rob Feenie, food concept architect at Cactus Club Restaurants, shared his low-fat baked-instead-of-fried chicken on his Food Network Canada show, New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie.

“I made a version of my mother’s fried chicken on that episode,” says Feenie, telling alive he was going to make the dish for his kids for dinner that night. “It’s very simple; it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s baked, not deep-fried, so it’s healthier.”

Feenie advises using free-range chicken for its flavour. He uses Japanese panko bread crumbs, which give the chicken an extra-crunchy coating, and he adds a touch of cayenne because his young children “like a bit of heat.” He recommends serving it with roasted yams, beets, or new potatoes; grilled asparagus; a green salad; or whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce. “It goes with so many side dishes.”

Contemporary comfort

Anthony Rose, head chef at Toronto’s Drake Hotel, who’s known for his contemporary comfort food, says his “fried” chicken is one of the most requested items on his menu.

“Who doesn’t love fried chicken?” says Rose, who’s teaching people how to make his healthy Southern baked chicken at a class at the Bonnie Stern School of Cooking this month. He’s inspired by the taste of fried chicken he eats when he visits his in-laws, who live in North Carolina. “I love the classics,” he says. “It’s an easy dish with so many layers of flavour. It’s so succulent and juicy.”

Chicken challenge

Julie Van Rosendaal (dinnerwithjulie.com) loves transforming high-fat recipes into healthy ones. Her new cookbook, Grazing: A Healthier Approach to Snacks and Finger Foods (Revised and Updated) (Whitecap, 2009), hits shelves this month.

She knows a lot about making meals that are good for you: the Calgary mother of one and author of One Smart Cookie: All Your Favourite Cookies, Squares, Brownies and Biscotti … with Less Fat (Whitecap, 2007) used to weigh 165 pounds more than she does now. She took on the idea of making a healthy version of fried chicken as a challenge and designed a recipe exclusively for alive.

Van Rosendaal notes that she saves time and money by buying big family packs of chicken. She cuts the meat into pieces then freezes them right away in a marinade of buttermilk.

“The buttermilk makes the chicken really tender and allows the coating to stick,” she says.

Thanks to the ever-growing interest in healthy food options, new, healthier versions of the classic fried chicken recipe are easy to make and are just tasty as the real thing! Delicious and nutritious, healthy “fried” chicken made at home saves both the pocketbook and the diet.

Here’s a meal suitable for a casual get-together that will impress family and friends—especially when they find out that the crispy chicken they’re about to savour won’t induce a heart attack.


If gluten is forbidden

Many of us love crispy chicken or a barbecue with burgers and beer; but people who are gluten intolerant, such as those with celiac disease, must be very creative when it comes to enjoying these gastronomical delights.

Since most breading recipes for chicken contain flour, and burgers are wrapped in a bun, gluten is far too easy to find. Here are some ideas for creating interesting alternatives and avoiding the gluten.

Chicken

  • Soak chicken pieces in a mixture of buttermilk and eggs.
  • Coat with a combination of any of the following: potato starch, tapioca flour, brown rice flour, and white rice flour.
  • Spritz with trans fat-free oil and bake in the oven.

Burgers

  • Make sure your burger is made with a gluten-free binder and served on a gluten-free bun.
  • Ditch the bun and wrap that burger in a lettuce leaf.

Beer

Enjoy a gluten-free beer from the Les bières de la Nouvelle-France (BNF) microbrewery in Quebec, available across Canada.


Shopping List

Faux Fried Chicken

  • 8 chicken pieces (skinless)
  • buttermilk or runny plain yogourt
  • panko (Japanese bread crumbs), corn flake crumbs, dry bread crumbs, or finely crushed crackers
  • Parmesan cheese (grated) or pecans (ground)

Potato and Arugula Salad

  • small potatoes
  • red wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • garlic (2 heads)
  • 1 shallot
  • sherry or red wine vinegar
  • olive oil

Carrot Slaw

  • carrots
  • radicchio or red cabbage
  • green onions
  • sunflower seeds
  • balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar
  • olive oil
  • Dijon mustard
  • granulated sugar

Tips for easy “fried” chicken

  • Making a healthy version of fried chicken at home saves money too: a single thigh at a local fast-food joint goes for roughly $2.55, while the same would work out to just over a dollar at the grocery store. That means a dinner for four with two pieces each would cost about $8 at home and a whopping $20.40 at the fast-food joint.
  • To cut down on fat content, use white meat instead of dark and remove the skin.
  • For vegetarian options, try panko-crusted pan-fried or oven-baked halibut cheeks, artichoke hearts, or extra-firm tofu.
  • If you have any chicken left over or decide to cook some extra pieces for a fast meal the next day, toss the chicken on top of a romaine salad with low-fat Caesar dressing or load it into a soft whole wheat tortilla with shredded carrot, crisp iceberg lettuce, and pesto mayonnaise for a delicious wrap.

Forsake fast food fried

Fried chicken doesn’t get much respect. That’s because the dish is most commonly associated with greasy fast-food outlets. There’s no denying that if you order up a batch of the stuff at a typical restaurant chain you’ll get enough oil to keep the Tin Man lubricated for life!

For proof of the heart-unhealthy quotient, look no further than the nutritional breakdown of a popular fast-food chain’s single fried chicken thigh:

  • 330 calories
  • 110 milligrams cholesterol
  • 23 grams fat, including 6 grams saturated fats, 3 grams trans fats

To be fair, some restaurants have eliminated the trans fats from their fried chicken to keep with ever-growing public interest in healthy eating. But most restaurants stay true to their roots, serving up food that’s deep-fried and fat-laden.

Easy crispy chicken

It’s easy to enjoy chicken with a nice crispy batter, and it doesn’t have to be dripping in deep-fry oil!

Corn flakes and bread crumbs are great alternatives when making your own chicken coating, providing a satisfying crunch without having to sacrifice your health. Just make sure to buy the right kind of bread or cereal for the coating; otherwise, you may as well be digging into that bucket of fried chicken.

Things to keep in mind when buying the goodies for your homemade batter are:

  • Avoid hydrogenated oils or trans fatty acids. These bad-for-you fats, found in many prepackaged foods, will raise cholesterol levels.
  • Go organic. Foods produced organically do not contain chemicals that commercially produced products usually do.
  • Avoid added sugar when you can. Also look for foods sweetened with naturally occurring sugars such as fruit juice or honey.
  • Go for the grain. Health Canada recommends that half of the grains we eat should be the fibre-filled, whole wheat variety.

Many whole food markets offer a variety of products to help you on your way to feel-good chicken. Here are some we found to be useful:

  • Organic plain bread crumbs. These crumbs contain only flour, yeast, and sea flakes. They are also made with certified organic grains and flours.
  • Organic corn flakes. These flakes are sweetened with organic grape and pear juice concentrate. They may also be gluten-free, which means they contain no wheat, rye, barley, or oat gluten.

For the adventurous souls who choose to make bread crumbs from scratch, look for organic, multi-grain bread that’s dairy free and made with organic evaporated cane juice instead of sugar. —Sandy Buemann

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