Healthier take on football food: Buffalo tenders

First, a confession. I don't watch the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, I rarely even know who is playing. Still, I'm well aware that it is far and away America's largest secular holiday and that the celebration requires not only watching the game on television, but also eating a hefty snack or meal while doing so.

Naturally, such a manly event calls for manly cuisine, dishes designed to be eaten by hand and that will stick to the ribs.

Buffalo-style chicken wings and chicken nuggets are just the sort of thing deep-fried deliciousness we're talking about. And my recipe marries the two and, incredibly, does so in a way that simultaneously satisfies the soul and keeps the blood whistling through the old arteries.

BUFFALO CHICKEN TENDERS

Serves 4

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot sauce

2 cups plus 6 tablespoons buttermilk, divided

1 pound chicken tenders (or chicken breasts cut into 3-by-1-inch strips, 1/2-inch thick)

3/4 cup whole-wheat Italian seasoned

breadcrumbs

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce and 2 cups of the buttermilk. Whisk until the salt is dissolved. Add the chicken tenders and stir to coat well with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 10 hours.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray it with olive oil cooking spray.

In a shallow bowl combine the whole-wheat and panko breadcrumbs. In another small bowl, whisk together the remaining 6 tablespoons of buttermilk, the mayonnaise, blue cheese and lemon juice. Transfer to a ramekin for dipping. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of hot sauce into a second ramekin for dipping.

Use a colander to drain the chicken, but do not pat it dry. Dip each chicken piece in the breadcrumb mixture, making sure it is coated well on both sides. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, then spritz the tops with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake on the oven's middle shelf for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until they are just cooked through. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a platter. Serve with both dipping sauces.

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