OK, everybody... Please note that the title says healthIER. We're not promising low-fat, cholesterol-free chicken wings here. But some of us are big basketball fans (of the Tar Heels, specifically) and, for better or worse, enjoy a few bar food specialties over Final Four weekend. Click below for our lightened-up (organic!) hot wings with blue cheese dip.
We admit that fried chicken is not exactly the dish one should start messing with in an attempt to cut calories. We did try marinating the wings in hot sauce and roasting them in the oven, but that process just didn't cut it. If we were going to eat the skin anyway, we wanted it to be crunchy.
We've also read plenty about how fried food doesn't really absorb much of the frying oil if the oil is hot enough. We kept ours at around 400 degrees and drained the wings well on paper towels (they left very little oil on the towels, by the way).
We then tackled the two things that make hot wings so hard to love: First, the hot sauce mixture the wings are coated with is primarily melted butter. Second, one usually dunks them in boatloads of blue cheese dip.
We eliminated the melted butter and instead tossed our wings in hot sauce mixed with a few tablespoons of honey, which added a tinge of non-traditional sweetness but also provided the glue that helped the sauce stick to the chicken.
Next, we made a blue cheese dressing with yogurt and low-fat milk instead of mayonnaise or sour cream. Then we loaded carrot and celery sticks onto our plate and ate guilt-free. Below, round two — with drummies. Can we please say... Score?
Healthier Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Dip
serves 4-5 as appetizers, 2 as a main course
For the dip:
4 ounces blue cheese
1/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt*
1/2 cup low-fat milk
Crumble the blue cheese into a food processor. Add the yogurt and pulse until creamy, but with some chunks of cheese. Add milk and pulse until combined.
*We recommend a thick Greek yogurt (like Total), which gives a creamier consistency. If you use a thinner yogurt, you may need less milk.
For the chicken:
1 cup hot sauce, like Tabasco or Crystal
2 tablespoons honey
12-16 organic chicken wings or drummies
salt and pepper
Heat hot sauce and honey in a small saucepan over low heat.
Pour about 3 inches of oil into a large pot or dutch oven. Heat the oil on high until it reaches 375 to 400 degrees (use a clip-on candy thermometer).
Make sure chicken is dry — any water will splatter when the chicken hits the oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Fry in batches of 4 to 6 pieces, depending on how large your pot is. You want to leave plenty of room between chicken pieces so they cook quickly and absorb less oil. Occasionally turn the chicken with tongs, so that all sides get browned and crispy. Fry wings for about 8 minutes. Drummies may take longer, about 12 minutes. You may need to adjust the heat to keep the oil temperature consistent.
When the skin is golden brown, remove chicken from the pot and place on paper towels to drain for a minute or two. Put chicken in a large bowl and pour in a portion of the sauce (for half the chicken, use half the sauce). Toss until chicken is coated. Serve with carrots, celery, and blue cheese dip.
(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)