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How to Make a Healthier Bucket O’ Chicken at Home

The Editors of EatingWell Magazine
Shine Food
January 22, 2013

How to Make a Healthier Bucket o' Chicken at Home
How to Make a Healthier Bucket o' Chicken at Home

By Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor, EatingWell Magazine

I love fried chicken and apparently I'm 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.

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Can I do a better job of making my own version of a crispy "Bucket o' Chicken" without leaving the house, without using a deep-fryer and without blowing my 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)

490 calories

224 calories

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:

Watch EatingWell's Food Editor Make This Healthier Fried Chicken

1. Remove the Skin
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 on saturated fat. Your meal at KFC would have 7 grams of saturated fat. Our recipe has only 2 grams of saturated fat.

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2. Marinate the Chicken
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.

3. Get Out the Cooking Spray
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.

4. Don't Fry Your "Fried" Chicken
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.)

Here's the recipe:

Oven-Fried Chicken
Makes: 4 servings
Active time: 20 minutes | Total: 1 hour 35 minutes (including 30 minutes marinating time) | To make ahead: Marinate the chicken for up to 8 hours.

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.

1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk (see Tip)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 1/2-3 pounds whole chicken legs, skin removed, trimmed and cut into thighs and drumsticks
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Olive oil cooking spray

1. Whisk buttermilk, mustard, garlic and hot sauce in a shallow glass dish until well blended. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.
3. Whisk flour, sesame seeds, paprika, thyme, baking powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place the flour mixture in a paper bag or large sealable plastic bag. Shaking off excess marinade, place one or two pieces of chicken at a time in the bag and shake to coat. Shake off excess flour and place the chicken on the prepared rack. (Discard any leftover flour mixture and marinade.) Spray the chicken pieces with cooking spray.
4. Bake the chicken until golden brown and no longer pink in the center, 40 to 50 minutes.

Per serving: 224 calories; 7 g fat (2 g sat, 2 g mono); 130 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 34 g protein; 1 g fiber; 237 mg sodium; 400 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Zinc (24% daily value).

Tip: No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make "sour milk": mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.

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What restaurant meal would you like to make healthier at home?

By Hilary Meyer

Hilary Meyer
Hilary Meyer

EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

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