There’s nothing healthy about fried chicken. It doesn’t matter if you use gluten-free flour or deep fry it in olive oil. Healthy is an adjective that doesn’t apply to fried chicken. We just need to accept this is as fact. It’s like I know no one is ever going to describe me as tall. If I donned a pair of platform timberlands on a day with low barometric pressure, I still wouldn’t be tall. I’ve accepted this. I’m not tall, and fried chicken isn’t healthy. Before ‘Michael Jordan tears’ fall briskly from your eyes, let me explain.
I get it; fried chicken is delicious. I’m a Chicagoan, so I know the Harold’s on 87th is the best Harold’s in the city. However, I also run a weight management clinic, so I know that fried foods, particularly fried chicken, are obstacles for weight loss (check out my previous post about foods that contribute to weight gain).
Don’t despair, if you have an oven, you can make great tasting wings without deep frying them. In this post, I’ll share an excellent recipe as a healthier example.
Let me share a few disclaimers before I get into the recipe.
1. To my vegan/vegetarian readers
I still believe a plant-based pattern of eating is the healthiest. Me sharing a chicken recipe doesn’t change that view. But, most people I see in my clinic aren’t ready to transition completely to a plant-based diet. In the meantime, people need options that are better than frying chicken.
2. To anyone reading this post and thinking anything related to chicken and stereotypes.
Yes, I said fried chicken is delicious (even though I can’t recall the last time I cooked fried chicken or bought some Harold’s). Before you lump me in with Kanye or make me a groomsman at Ahmad Rashad’s wedding (yikes)—please know that the fried chicken stereotype is complete garbage. To set the record straight, KFC is the 4th most valuable fast food chain in the world.
A single ethnic group isn’t driving that worldwide value—it’s driven by a nearly universal appeal of fried foods. Almost everyone likes fried chicken. Despite the near universal love of fried chicken, I do take issue with this Ella Fitzgerald commercial (Ella must have needed some cash).
The Recipe: Asian styled Oven Roasted Wings with White BBQ sauce
Marinating chicken in yogurt? There’s a method to my madness. Have you heard of Tandoori Chicken?
If you are wondering why I decided to marinate the chicken in yogurt, you probably never had tandoori chicken. Tandoori chicken is an Indian dish that involves marinating the chicken in yogurt and spices.
When I was a medical student at Northwestern, I found a 24-hour Indian restaurant that made me fall in love with tandoori chicken. The restaurant was a hangout for cab drivers. I had a ritual of going there the night before every exam and eating tandoori chicken. It sounds random, but that’s what I did. Before almost every test in med-school, my night was filled with Naan bread and tandoori chicken. There was something relaxing about eating tandoori chicken and watching cricket with a bunch of cab drivers at 2 in the morning.
What’s up with the Asian Flavors?
The Asian flavors were inspired by the fact many Asian restaurants often have some of the best wings in any given city #fight me. Most Asian cuisine is a perfect balance of sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy flavors. The umami or meaty flavor is also common in Asian cooking. These flavor profiles are very similar to that of American BBQ. Hence, I incorporated the flavors in both the marinade and a white BBQ sauce.
White BBQ sauce? Bruh? A family reunion in Alabama exposed me to the mysteries of white BBQ sauce.
Don’t get offended—this is not my attempt at a micro-aggression. Yes, it sounds like something served at a rally with tiki torches, but there’s nothing racial about the most delicious sauce to come out of the state of Alabama.
I was a teenager when I had white BBQ sauce for the first time. At that time, my family and I went down to Tuskegee Alabama for a family reunion.
It was your typical family reunion. There was good food, a couple of electric slide dance-offs, and a “know your roots”/educational component. Aside from bonding with family over songs like “Summertime” by Will Smith and “Family Reunion” by the Ojays, there were a few things about the trip that stood out to me. The first was that Booker T. Washington deserves more credit than what he gets. If he were alive today, he’d probably have a non-for-profit foundation for STEM programs in underserved communities. White BBQ sauce was the second standout.
When we were driving from Montgomery to Tuskegee, we stopped at a local greasy-spoon BBQ joint. I ordered some BBQ, and the waitress walked over with a jar of white stuff. I honestly thought it was sour cream, a stark contrast from the ‘mild sauce’ I was used to in Chicago. The waitress must have noticed my confusion—she quickly informed me that it was indeed white BBQ sauce. I’ll admit, I was skeptical. You have to understand that this was the early 90s—this was pre-Food Network, pre-social media, and pre-internet. Despite my skepticism, I tried it. The tangy mayonnaise/miracle whip-based sauce thoroughly surprised me—it was delicious.
Obviously, a cholesterol-laden mayo-based sauce is not what one would expect on a nutrition-focused blog (at least I hope you wouldn’t expect that). To make the sauce healthier, I replaced with mayo with a low-fat Greek Yogurt.
The key to the recipe is cooking the chicken on a rack. Using a rack makes the chicken crispier because it allows air to circulate around the chicken.
The recipe uses mirin and sambal oelek. Don’t let these ingredients intimidate you. You can easily find them both in the ‘Asian’ section of most grocery stores. Mirin is a rice wine that’s similar to sake, but it’s sweeter and lower in alcohol. Sambal oelek is a chili paste made from a variety of chili’s or peppers. Most brands are completely vegetarian, but some may contain shrimp paste. If you have shellfish allergies, read the ingredients to play it safe.
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.