There are three reasons we love fried food. First, it’s moist and juicy. Second, the crust is crispy. And third – and this is a well-kept secret – anything cooked in fat tastes better than because fat amplifies flavor even if you don’t taste the fat itself.
My biggest challenge in creating a healthy take on Buffalo wings was to construct a crisp crust without deep-frying the chicken.
I started with chicken tenders, those little flaps of chicken meat attached to the underside of each chicken breast. They’re as meaty as boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but cheaper because they’re smaller, and because of a tough little tendon that runs down the middle of each tender.
I tenderized them – including the tendon – by soaking in buttermilk. I flavored the buttermilk with garlic and my favorite smoky hot sauce (Tabasco Chipotle), then threw in a hefty pinch of salt to create a brine.
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The chicken luxuriated in this buttermilk bath for several hours, after which I coated it with a mixture of bread crumbs and panko (for extra crunch). Instead of frying, I spritzed it with cooking spray and baked it.
If it is not quite as crispy as a fried version, it is nonetheless ridiculously flavorful. I achieved this effect by adding a blue cheese dipping sauce, which borrows one of the trademark ingredients of Buffalo chicken wings.
Sara Moulton hosts public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and is the author of three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”