If you love fried chicken, you're not alone. (You can buy fried chicken by the bucket at several popular fast-food chains.) The beauty of fried chicken is that it’s cheap and delicious. The not so beautiful side is that just two pieces of extra-crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken comes in at around 490 calories. And that doesn’t include those irresistible mashed potatoes and gravy either, which will add another 120 calories. Is it possible to make fried chicken healthier at home?
— Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor
Can you do a better job of making your own version of a crispy “Bucket o’ Chicken” without leaving the house, without using a deep-fryer and without blowing your calorie allotment for half the day on only one meal? Yes! In fact, you can do it for only half the calories and just one-fifth the fat and sodium of the fast-food classic. Here’s how EatingWell’s healthier fried chicken compares against the Colonel’s:
Kentucky Fried Chicken “Extra-Crispy” (2 pieces)
EatingWell Oven-Fried Chicken (2 pieces)
34 grams fat
7 grams fat
1,140 mg sodium
237 mg sodium
Here are 5 tips to help you make healthier “fried” chicken at home:
But wait! Isn’t it the skin that makes chicken crispy?! The answer: Not if you’re frying it. What makes classic fried chicken crispy is the coating, which is usually made of flour and spices. So you can lose the skin without compromising flavor. And you’ll save big time. Your meal at KFC would have 7 grams of saturated fat. Our recipe has only 2 grams of saturated fat.
Marinating your chicken in buttermilk is the right way to start any fried-chicken recipe. Why? The buttermilk begins to break down the protein in the meat, making it more tender when it’s cooked. It also opens up a great opportunity to infuse some flavor—like garlic or even a little hot sauce—into your chicken. You can marinate it for just a short time (around 30 minutes or so) or up to 8 hours. In general, the longer the better—just don’t let it go too long or your meat will end up with a mushy texture.
Instead of letting your chicken pieces swim in a pool of hot oil, you’re going to give the coated chicken pieces a light coating of cooking spray before oven-frying (see next tip). Cooking spray is great because it gives your food a nice even coating of oil without tacking on too many calories. (Spraying oil for 1 second adds about 9 calories.) And using spray helps keep the coating on the chicken by eliminating the need to brush oil onto it or flip it in a pan. It also helps keep it from sticking to a wire rack.
Make fried chicken without deep-frying? Yes. For a healthier result, you want to oven-fry. Put down your frying pan and preheat your oven to 425°F. A hot oven is a great way to get a crispy crust and cook food quickly. If you use your frying pan, you’ll have to use lots of oil to achieve the same crispy result—not to mention the few extra hundred calories it will add to your final dish. Another advantage of the oven? You can make a “bucket” full of chicken in just one batch; if you were using even your largest skillet, you would have to cook the chicken in batches.
So now that you’re cooking your chicken in the oven, you’ll need to invest in a wire rack about the size of your baking sheet. Is it critical to use one? Yes. (Don’t worry, they’re cheap.) It raises the chicken off the baking sheet so heat can reach underneath the food as well as on top. (If it’s sitting right on the baking sheet, you get a nice crispy top but a soggy bottom.)
Great news—crunchy, flavorful fried chicken can be healthy with this oven-fried chicken recipe. We marinate skinless chicken in buttermilk to keep it juicy. A light coating of flour, sesame seeds and spices, misted with olive oil, forms an appealing crust during baking. And with only 7 grams of fat per serving in this oven-fried chicken recipe, that is good news.
Get the Recipe: Oven-Fried Chicken
More Healthy Cooking Tips