Fried chicken is one of life’s true indulgences, a food at once achingly humble and yet astonishingly delicious. Can you tell I grew up in the South? Coated in buttermilk, sprinkled liberally with coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper, fried in lard in a cast-iron skillet, fried chicken would be my last meal on earth if I could choose. It is also a favorite of my children. And that’s kind of a problem, because of its many virtues fried chicken is simply not good for you. And so even though I’m the kind of person who for years made fun of people who found ways to make fried chicken “healthy” instead of just eating less of it less often, I have reluctantly joined the oven-fried bandwagon. Because I am quite picky about fried chicken — which means, essentially, that I don’t want to give up any flavor, taste, or texture for virtue — I experimented with a lot of ways to make oven-fried chicken delicious. This is my favorite… Now, it’s not really fried chicken: It’s boneless skinless chicken breasts that are bathed in buttermilk and some other good things and then rolled in yellow cornmeal. But it’s crunchy, it’s juicy, and it manages to hit some of the same notes (if not with as much force) as the real thing. Sometimes even I have to compromise.
Almost as Good as Fried Chicken Chicken
Makes 4 Servings.
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Lemon wedges, optional
Hot sauce, optional
Pat chicken breasts to an even thickness. In a shallow bowl, combine the buttermilk and Worcestershire sauce. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Let chicken soak in the mixture for at least 10 minutes (3-4 hours is even better).
Preheat the oven to 450. Coat a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil. In a shallow dish, combine the flour, cornmeal, zest, salt, and cayenne pepper. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dip it into the flour mixture to coat completely. Place the chicken on the baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch between each piece. Drizzle with the remaining oil.
Bake the chicken until the coating is golden and crusty and the chicken is white throughout, about 20 minutes. Served garnished with lemon wedges and hot sauce.
Photo credit: Superstock