02/24 2010

Southern Fried Chicken – Slimmed Down

I grew up in the South and – though my body is better off without it – I sometimes crave down home cooking. Many southern favorites are deep fried or heavy on fat and sugar, but I’ve come up with some healthier twists on the dishes I love, and would like to share my recipe makeovers with you.

Fried Food

As I mentioned in last week’s post, Southerners know how to fry food – whether it’s chicken, fish, shrimp, okra or cheese, just to name a few. I usually save my fried food quota for my annual (or possibly biannual) visits to North Carolina, where my mom now lives. I am so far removed from a fried diet that I can’t eat much of it; but on those occasions when I do, I am selective. Specifically, the three fried foods I still sample on special occasion are okra, onions and oysters.

Last week, I read an interesting article about whether or not fried foods can be healthy. Mark’s assertion is that: “With the right oils under the right conditions, fried veggies and meats are perfectly acceptable Primal delicacies. Are there better cooking methods? Yes.” (Later in the piece, he describes in detail how restaurants typically fry foods. After this knowledge, I may even have to say no to my once/year okra, onion rings and oysters).

The cooking methods I find preferable to deep frying are pan frying, baking, broiling and grilling. In my opinion, taking a lovely piece of fresh fish and deep frying it in a vat of oil masks its natural flavor which might be otherwise accented by other cooking methods. I could say the same about a myriad of other foods, but today I’ll plead my case with chicken.

Fried Chicken and Other Not-So-Fried Alternatives

Fried chicken got its middle name in the South. I grew up eating it at family reunions, at home and at the KFC (then actually called Kentucky Fried Chicken). As far as I knew, that was the only way to prepare the bird. Apparently, healthier alternatives are popular these days. Here are just a few of the fine selections I found:

Danielle’s Oven fried chicken

Tami’s Oven fried chicken breasts and nuggets

Naomi’s Statecoach chicken

And if you are a gravy die-hard, you can check out the Country Cook’s Chicken fried chicken with gravy.

Even if culturally we have evolved to more healthy chicken preparations, in the South and elsewhere, according to Nutrition Unplugged, chicken fingers are still #1 item on kids’ menus. So even if we proud parents have removed this fattening foe from our diets, our poor little ones are still eating the greasy monsters. I wrote about the chicken fingers plight a while back, but now I’m offering an alternative solution.

Big Daddy’s Yummy Chicken

I’ll share my recipe for what we like to call “Big Daddy’s Yummy Chicken.” Luke often requests this delicious almost-fried-chicken dish, so last night I complied.

Serving Size: 3 (if the 3rd is a little one)


  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and fresh thyme if you have some in your back yard
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I also like panko or fresh bread crumbs, if you want to take the time to make them)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil

First you have to pound out the chicken. If you involve your little one in the process like I did, he’s even more excited about the finished product. Note that sticking out your tongue for the task is not required (but wearing one’s shirt inside out might be):

Luke hammering

Next comes the messy part (note I talked Big Daddy himself into doing, something I highly recommend). You dip the chicken in the egg white, then the flour mixture, then the bread crumbs. (It’s really sad when your husband has prettier hands than you do, by the way).

Chicken in flour

Before I cooked the chicken, I prepared my roasted potatoes. It doesn’t really matter how you slice and dice – all you need to add is salt, pepper and olive oil (we have also added fresh rosemary, paprika, and other spices on occasion).  Then we bake about 40 minutes at 425 degrees.


And baked broccoli, another Neely family staple. We sprinkle steak seasoning, garlic powder and pepper atop chopped broccoli, along with olive oil. They are ready to eat after 15 minutes in a 425 degree oven.


Next you pan fry the chicken in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Then I put the chicken into the oven with the vegetables for another 5-10 minutes. (Oven is set at 400 degrees).

Chicken cooking

If you have time and want to go to the trouble, you can easily prepare a piccata sauce for the chicken. I used about 1 lemon +1 TBSP butter and let is saute while the chicken was in the oven. You can also add 1/4 cup or so of white wine, too. Just be sure the wine has time to reduce. (Note: This is not required).

Piccata sauce

And just in time for the tip-off of the Tennessee game (which they sadly lost), here’s the final product. (This is Luke’s serving; ours was bigger).

Dish for Baby Bubs

Not only did Luke eat every bite without a single warning (“if you don’t finish you dinner, then….”), but after finishing, he turned to me and said, “Mommy that was the best chicken ever. I just loved it!”

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that mean so much. Especially when it’s in the spirit of a little less grease.

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