Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fried Chicken Salad with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette (Healthified!)

My little brother came to visit us this past weekend and in honor of his presence, the whole family took a trip to the birthplace of chicken wings: The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. We also threw in a visit to Niagara Falls to make it seem like we were not making a long car trip just to eat a couple wings, but the reality was that's pretty much the only reason Paul and Ray came along. Upon entering the Anchor Bar, while carrying a baby and holding the hand of our 4-year-old, the butch decorations and biker atmosphere made us rethink whether we should have brought the kids along. Our fears were quickly allayed after our waitress seated us and made the kids feel right at home with little glasses of chocolate milk. There was pizza on the menu, too, so we knew Matthew would eat something. We were not too worried about Emma the Human Garbage Disposal.

Raymond was a bit nervous about sitting next to Emma for lunch. 

Paul and Ray chose to order a platter full of wings tossed in the Anchor Bar's signature medium heat sauce. For the non-wing lovers (me and the kids), a large New York style pizza was also added to the order. The food arrived quickly and soon the boys were in wing heaven. They munched away happily, not saying much (always a sign that the food is good) and their pile of carnage in the discard bowl grew quite large. I tried one of the wings and have to say that I thought they did an exceptional job. They were delicious! However, the pizza was pretty dang good as well. They have an awesome dough and I was in love with the pizza sauce - nicely seasoned and full of rich tomato flavor! After the boys finished their wings, they turned their hungry eyes to our pizza and demolished the rest of that. I think they were hungry.

So happy and full.

A frightening image of Paul gorging himself.

After the massacre was complete, Raymond sat back admiring his work, too full to get moving quite yet. He began to comment on how, if he had his choice, his final meal would be a bucket full of chicken wings with extra hot sauce. I sneered at his choice, claiming it to be a waste of a final meal.

"Ok fine! What would your last meal be?" he shot back.

I thought for a moment, and then replied: "Fried chicken."

At that, he burst out laughing: "Oh that's so much different. Chicken wings are basically just small pieces of fried chicken doused in hot sauce."

And you know, he's right. But traditional fried chicken is so much better in my opinion especially when served with mashed potatoes, corn, gravy, and a really good biscuit (and no, I'm not just trying to describe the KFC menu!). However, the unfortunate reality about fried chicken is that it is practically dripping with a ridiculous number of calories and saturated fat. It's great to be enjoyed every now and then, but if you crave it on a regular basis like I do then a healthier substitute needs to be found.

Enter the method of oven-frying your chicken. This is something my Mother used to do all the time when I was younger. It was one of my favorite meals - I called it "chicken with the crumbs on it." Actually, I still call it that.

Last week, I was craving fried chicken and decided to oven fry a batch to be served over salad with tomatoes, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and honey-mustard vinaigrette. So I soaked my chicken overnight in buttermilk to ensure that it was super tender, coated it in crushed cornflakes, laid it on a wire rack set over a baking pan, and baked it! In about 35 minutes, we had the most gorgeous batch of oven-fried chicken. The tangy-sweet mustard dressing is a delicious complement to it. This meal was so good that we enjoyed it three days in a row. Even the kids were big fans and ate without complaint (the chicken, not the lettuce).

Of course, you could always douse the finished chicken in wing sauce and serve it with ranch dressing to make a "Buffalo Wing Style" salad to appease the wing fanatics like my brother. Either way you shake it, this is a healthier way to fill those fried chicken cravings!

Fried Chicken Salad with Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette

Note: I like a nice punch from the mustard, so feel free to adjust the amounts in the vinaigrette recipe to suit your own tastes.

For the Chicken:
2 cups Buttermilk
2 large Garlic Cloves, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons Hot Sauce (like Frank's Red)
1 tablespoon All-Purpose Seasoning Salt
1 teaspoon Coarse Ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut into tenders)

3 cups crushed cornflake crumbs
Melted butter, oil, or cooking spray (for drizzling)

For the Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette:
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard (smooth)
2 tablespoons honey (or more to taste)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup canola oil

For the Salad:
Romaine lettuce, hearts removed and chopped
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, cored and diced
3-4 hard boiled eggs, cut into halves or quarters

To make the chicken, combine the buttermilk and all seasonings together in a large ziploc bag. Shake to combine. Add the chicken pieces, seal the bag tightly, and place on a large plate. Transfer to the fridge and allow the chicken to marinate in the buttermilk for at least 12 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack over the baking sheet. In a food processor, pulse the the cornflakes until crushed into crumbs. Make sure you have about three cups worth. Transfer the cornflake crumbs to a pie plate.

Working with one piece of chicken at a time, remove from the buttermilk mixture and allow any excess to drip off. Roll the chicken pieces in the cornflakes until well coated and then carefully transfer to the wire rack. Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken. When all the chicken pieces have been coated, drizzle the chicken with a little bit of oil, melted butter, or just spray lightly with cooking oil.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest chicken piece registers 165 degrees.

While the chicken cooks, combine all the ingredients for the dressing except the oil in a blender and mix until well combined. Slowly drizzle in the oil with the machine running on low and then crank it up a bit until the dressing is emulsified. Add additional honey, salt, and pepper to taste.

When ready to serve, toss all the salad ingredients except the chicken and eggs in a large bowl. Toss the greens with some of the dressing. Place the green on a large platter. Slice the chicken and place over the salad greens. Garnish with the hard boiled eggs. Drizzle with additional dressing. Serve!

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