Fried Chicken, Lightened Up

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We’ve given you tips for lightening up your fried favorites. Now it’s time to hone in on this crunchy comfort food classic. We’ve got tips for every step in making crispy, juicy, and less-fattening fried chicken.

Nutrition Facts

On average, one piece of traditional fried breast meat chicken has 350 calories, 15 grams fat (4 of them saturated). Pieces of dark meat are typically smaller but higher in fat. You’re not really saving calories with those boneless chicken strips – we found popular fast food chain offerings that had as much as 160 calories and 9 grams of fat per piece! Fried nuggets were not much better at about 50 calories and 3 grams of fat each.

Meat

As mentioned above, breast meat is slightly lower in fat than dark meat – it has about 10 calories and 1 grams of fat less per ounce. So, choosing breast meat or a smaller portion of dark meat for any breaded chicken recipe is a good start. The skin also contains a hefty amount of fat – each ounce of fried chicken skin adds 140 calories and 12 grams of fat so best to opt for skinless cuts of chicken.

Wet Ingredients

Most fried chicken recipes require some sort of wet ingredients to add flavor and to get the coating to adhere to the meat. The good news is, just about all of them are healthy choices. Low fat buttermilk helps to keep the meat tender and juicy. Yogurt, egg whites, Dijon mustard and honey are other good ways to get the dry ingredients to stick.

Dry Ingredients

Basic fried recipes may only call for seasoned flour. If you want to save calories by baking the chicken, you’ll want a more substantial coating (especially if you're getting rid of the skin). Crunch and flavor are key so try out any of the combinations below:

Crunch
•    Panko breadcrumbs
•    Dry breakfast cereal (puffed rice and corn flakes work best)
•    Cornmeal
•    Homemade breadcrumbs

Flavor
•    Seasoned breadcrumbs
•    Shredded coconut
•    Sliced almonds
Cooking Methods

Baking is obviously the healthier option. To get the crunch you crave follow these four steps:

1)    Shake off all excess coating – a thin layer is best.

2)    Drizzle with olive or canola oil or spray with nonstick spray before baking.

3)    Place coated chicken on a wire rack (over a sheet pan) so it gets crisp all over.

4)    Bake in a preheated oven (375 to 400-degrees F).

It won’t save as many calories, but you can also shallow fry chicken in a small amount of canola oil and then transfer to the oven to finish cooking. This will cut down on the amount of oil the chicken absorbs, keeping the calories and fat lower than deep frying.

Recipes to Try:
TELL US: How do you lighten up fried chicken?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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