It’s no secret that we love fried chicken (and who doesn’t??), but it’s certainly not the most healthy thing to eat (which is probably why it’s so delicious!) In addition to being decadently unhealthy, our favorite fried chicken recipe involves quite a bit more time and effort than the average weeknight meal, further distinguishing it as a special-occasion-only dish in our repertoire. So when we came across this recipe by Chef Art Smith that promised “a healthy spin on a classic dish,” and discovered that it also seemed pretty easy to make, we couldn’t wait to try it. We adapted the recipe by using chicken tenders instead of chicken breasts, and next time might cut down the spice amounts a little, but otherwise we really enjoyed it and loved how much more healthy it is than the traditional version of fried chicken. (Bonus — while doing research for this post, I found another Chef Smith recipe for unfried chicken that appears to be even more healthy — it replaces the buttermilk with Greek yogurt and uses multi-grain cereal instead of panko.) Traditional fried chicken will always be our favorite, but until someone declares the third Tuesday of each month to be a holiday or otherwise noteworthy occasion, unfried chicken will be our regular go-to when we’re craving that crispy outside, moist and flavorful inside, poultry goodness.
We used chicken tenders primarily because the only preparation they require is removing the white tendon from the end of each tender. If using chicken breasts, the original recipe calls for skinless, boneless breasts, and you’ll want to trim off any visible fat.
Combine a cup of buttermilk with a tablespoon of hot sauce (we used Cholula, but Tabasco or whatever hot sauce you like would also work) in a large bowl or baking dish, add the chicken and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Combine the breading ingredients: 1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs; 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese; 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder; 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder; 2 teaspoons black pepper; 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon paprika. The original recipe calls for combining these ingredients in a gallon-sized re-sealable plastic bag, then adding the chicken to the bag and shaking it until the chicken is evenly coated with the breading. We put the breading ingredients in large shallow bowl instead, because we thought it might be easier make sure each chicken tender was well-coated that way.
No matter your method, remove the chicken from the marinade and coat each piece with breading on all sides.
Lay the chicken on a wire rack (on top of a foil-lined cookie sheet, for less mess) or a lightly oiled cookie sheet and place it in the refrigerator (uncovered) for 30 minutes. This will help the chicken dry out a bit and give you a more crispy coating in the finished dish. Lightly spray the chicken with olive oil spray, then bake it in the oven preheated to 400 degrees, turning the chicken halfway through the cooking time, until the chicken is cooked through and the breading is browned and crispy — about 30-45 minutes total.
We served the chicken with dipping sauces (BBQ and a honey-mustard-based sauce found in this post) and cauliflower “mac-n-cheese.” A special occasion meal it is not, but unfried chicken is pretty darn good for a regular old Tuesday night.