I honestly can’t remember the last time, in the past 15 years, when I have eaten fried chicken. When my brother and I were little, and our parents used to go out for the evening, leaving us with a babysitter, the go-to meal was usually chicken fingers and tater tots. When we moved to Houston, as a pre-teen I discovered Chick-Fil-A, and I loved getting their fried chicken sandwiches (with a pickle on top!) to eat as my mom chauffeured me home from my downtown ice-skating lessons. At picnics, I would always opt for a golden and crispy piece of seasoned chicken over burgers and dogs.
Then I had to go and get all health conscious and ruin everything! Why is it that so many of the wonderful foods that we devoured as children turn out to be so bad for us? I’ve seen half a dozen special Dateline reports, telling me just how unhealthy Oreos, Pop Tarts, and Chicken Nuggets are, including horrifying statistics on the shelf life of a Twinkie. Obviously, all of this nutritional knowledge takes away from the enjoyment of eating these forbidden foods, so what’s a girl to do when she suddenly needs a fried chicken fix?
Paula Deen is to blame. There she was, in her enviable Savannah kitchen, doing what she does best: frying things in lots of oil. There I was, on the treadmill, getting hungrier by the minute. In that 30 minute episode, she produced fried chicken that looked like it came straight out of central food styling. At that point, I decided that I needed to compromise and find a good way to oven fry chicken, thus eliminating the vats of oil, but maintaining the crispy seasoned exterior.
This recipe is about as close to the southern-fried real deal as you can get, while cutting down significantly on fat and calories. By soaking the chicken in a spicy, low-fat buttermilk marinade overnight, the meat becomes very tender, and it stays moist throughout the baking process. Panko bread crumbs mixed with a little bit of Parmesan cheese, flour, and seasonings creates a crisp crust, without a trace of oil. Yes, Ms. Deen might disapprove of my technique, but we thought it was delicious. Here are a few tips for this spicy summer favorite:
- If you want to make this recipe even lighter, then make it using trimmed boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
- By cutting boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips, marinating, breading, and baking, you are essentially making your own, healthier chicken fingers, which children are sure to love!
- Don’t be alarmed by the amount of curry in the marinade. Although the flavor comes through, it by no means dominates the recipe. If you don’t like curry at all, feel free to leave it out and replace it with paprika, chili powder, or even garlic powder.
- Panko bread crumbs, which are the Japanese bread crumbs found in the Asian foods section of the grocery store, can be replaced with regular unseasoned breadcrumbs.
- Although the recipe says to marinate the chicken for at least 4 hours, I prefer to marinate it overnight, as this results in a moister, more flavorful product.
Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, and drumsticks) with skin and bones
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
In a large casserole dish, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, curry, mustard, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to blend well. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 1 day, turning occasionally.
Place racks on 2 large rimmed baking sheets and spray the racks with nonstick spray. In a large baking dish, whisk the Panko, cheese, flour, thyme, paprika, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt. Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing excess to drip off. Add the chicken to the breadcrumb mixture and turn to coat completely. Arrange the chicken, skin side up, on the racks on the baking sheets. Let stand 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425F degrees and place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Bake the chicken until crisp, golden, and cooked through, about 50 minutes, switching positions of the trays halfway through. Serve warm or at room temperature.