Faux Fried Chicken for the Lighter Set

or crunchy comfort food goodness on a "stick"

When I think "comfort food" I think popcorn, marshmallows, tomato soup, mac and cheese, and - of course - fried chicken.  What could be better to cure a foul mood then that crispy, irresistible skin containing the juicy goodness of perfectly seasoned chicken?  Maybe adding in a side of veggies or potatoes doused in butter, really the side selection doesn't matter too terribly much as long as it is properly doused, and hot rolls fresh out of the oven.  Mmmmm..  I'm feeling better already...

Sadly as delicious as this meal is, and trust me it truly is, you just can't dive into a plate of fat and carbs every time frustration or hostility start peaking their little heads around the corner and waltzing into your life.  To keep things in moderation I try to limit this type of meal to full on train wreck mode.  So what do I do when my bad mood just isn't quite foul enough to warrant a full on fat indulgence?  I fake it.  Just as acting "happy" can actually help improve your mood, if you can tolerate yourself long enough for it to take effect, a well planned comfort food knock off can give you a little bit of that soothing feeling without all the regret that settles in just in time to mess with your late night popcorn snack plans.  This isn't the healthiest of the "fake" fried chicken recipes out there, but I find it has a nice balance between the crispy crunchy fat dripped deliciousness of true fried chicken and the non-greasy oven baked alternative.  Plus, if you want to kick it up a notch and still not fully indulge, just use the whole eggs instead of the egg whites and toss in a splash of heavy whipping cream in place of the milk.  Don't worry, I won't tell. 

Chicken drumsticks - 6 to 8
Panko bread crumbs - 1½ cups
Low Fat Parmesan Cheese - 1/4 cup
House spice blend
Flour - ½ cup
Egg Whites - 4
Low Fat Milk - 3 tbsp
Kosher salt - 6 tbsp
Parsley - 4 tbsp
View full recipePreheat oven to 350°

1. First of all, you have to be prepared.  Create a breading station with 3 separate containers: flour, egg whites and milk (whisked together), then the Panko mixed with kosher salt and parsley.  Line everything up with the plate of chicken at one end followed by the breading station (in the aforementioned order) in the middle and a baking sheet prepared with a layer of aluminum foil and sprayed with olive oil at the end.

2. Working from the front of the line.  Season all of the chicken evenly with the spice blend.

3. Then, one at a time: dredge the chicken in flour, gently shake off any extra, then carefully coat each one in the egg mixture, take a moment as you lift it out to allow the excess to drip off, and finally roll in the Panko mixture turning and pressing to ensure that it sticks as much as possible.  Surface area coverage is essential here, so take care not to rush through things.  The moistness of the chicken is at stake, don't say I didn't warn you if you carelessly toss things around and end up with half coated, dry chicken.  I'm just saying...

4. Once the stations have been completed, place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet and spray the tops lightly with olive oil.  Bake for 20 min then flip and continue to bake for an additional 10-20 min, or until the outside is crispy and the internal temperature is 170°.  If the outside isn't quite crispy enough when the internal temperature is reached, don't worry - just turn the oven to broil and keep an eye on it as the outside catches up.

Now I realize that the picture isn't of the drumsticks version of the recipe, but I wasn't quick enough last time I made them to snatch a picture before they were gobbled up.  What this does show, however, is the same recipe made with boneless skinless chicken tenders (an even healthier alternative I'd like to add).  All you need to do to adjust the recipe is to shorten the cooking time, it will be closer to 10 min per side but it really depends on the thickness since tenders can cook really fast.  You will most likely need to broil them a bit at the end to reach the necessary level of crispiness to satisfy my tastes, but we're all different so the texture may just be perfect for you.  Crisp to your heart's content, just don't burn (nobody really likes that).  Give it a shot, it's a healthier version of one of my favorite comfort foods that even the kids can enjoy.  Top it with hot sauce, dip it in (low fat) Ranch dressing, the world is yours to experiment with - I would just avoid the melted butter or people may begin to doubt your healthy intentions.  Enjoy!

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