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Oven-Fried Chicken: Great fried taste, without actual frying

Aug. 24, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Good morning! Sit down, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and take a breather.

One of the great things that comes as you learn to cook is that you become able to modify poor or mediocre recipes, improving them into something that is really wonderful. That is what happened recently with a recipe for oven-fried chicken that I tried out for lunch one day.

The chicken recipe involved coating chicken tenders in a mix of egg and milk, then in crushed potato chips, and baking them in the oven until crisp on the outside and juicy and tender within. It was an interesting idea, and not the first time I had seen potato chips used as a breading. I decided to try it out. The result was moist inside, crisp outside, but had the lip-glossing greasiness I should have expected from baked potato chips.

So I re-engineered it. Out went the potato chips in favor of homemade seasoned bread crumbs (easy to make, and unlike the ones in the canister, they don't taste like floor sweepings). Instead of chicken tenders, which I find to be easy to overcook and weirdly sinewy, I use chicken breast cut into pieces, which tastes better, is more tender, and is considerably less expensive to boot -- a win-win situation.

I have to report that the result has caused me to rethink my opinion of oven-fried chicken, which I previously considered something close to an insult to the American flag. This chicken is crisp outside, moist inside, and would please any devout fried chicken eater ... but it isn't greasy, it's less expensive, and it's worlds less messy. It's downright delicious, and it belongs on your next dinner table. I made it four times in two days.

Note that the chicken is cut into small pieces. That's right, nuggets that parents and kids can agree upon. I hope.

You can create your own variations on this. My personal favorite is a spin on chicken Parmesan, with cheese and Italian flavors added to the breading. A couple trays of these and a bowl of marinara sauce make a wonderful party food, as yummy at room temperature as when hot -- perfect for the start of football season.

CHICKEN STICKS

(serves 4)

4 slices Italian bread

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it. I recommend the parchment paper, which will result in almost no clean-up.

Toast the bread and buzz it in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Add the salt and pepper, buzz until mixed, and dump the crumbs out into a pie plate. Set aside.

Beat the egg and milk in a medium bowl until well-combined. Set aside.

Cut the chicken breast halves in half lengthwise, then each half across into 1/2-inch-wide pieces. Mix the chicken pieces with the egg and milk in the bowl to coat.

Dip the chicken pieces, one at a time, in the seasoned crumbs, patting down into the crumbs on each side, then shaking off excess. Place each breaded piece on the baking sheet. Continue until all chicken is coated.

Bake for 10 minutes per side, turning once. Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce and side dishes.

HONEY MUSTARD DIPPING SAUCE

(makes 1-3/4 cups)

1 cup real mayonnaise (salad dressing doesn't work here)

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

3 drops yellow food coloring (optional)

Mix all well in a medium bowl. Refrigerate until serving. If you're feeling bored and/or fancy, hollow out a small red cabbage and serve the sauce in it. If it's a weeknight and you just want dinner, the bowl on the table is fine.

CHICKEN PARMESAN STICKS

(serves 4)

Proceed as above, but season bread crumbs with 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt. Add 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning to the egg mix.

Prepare, bread, and bake chicken as directed. Serve with heated bottled marinara sauce for dipping.

Chris Summers can be contacted at cordhaven@hotmail.com.

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