While traipsing across Oklahoma over Christmas vacation, I got a hankering (that's what we call a craving where I'm from, for all you Californians who don't know the word). :-) The hankering just grew when my husband and I went to the Cracker Barrel (for all you Californians who haven't heard of it, it's only one of the best country food restaurants known to man). I kept eying the chicken and dumplings, fried okra, chicken fried steak, fried apples, and cobbler...but in the end I ordered something much more boring to keep it healthier.
It was a bummer. And it put me on a mission. I determined that when I got back, I was going to figure out how to make something that tastes Cracker Barrel amazing but is a little lighter. I think I did it!
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present...Chicken Fried Chicken.
Sprinkle 4 thin chicken breasts (of similar size and thickness) with salt and pepper. Let those sit and stare at you while you prepare the breading (I swear, sometimes I think chicken breasts have eyes).
Now, the best breading I've ever had used a sleeve of crushed Saltine crackers. I didn't go with those this time - mostly because they weren't in my pantry. What was in my pantry was Chex cereal. I figured it was the perfect time to improvise!
For the breading, I put eight cups of Chex cereal in the blender and let 'er go (I used mainly corn Chex, with a little rice Chex tossed in). Then, I combined the crushed cereal with 1 teaspoon of seasoned salt, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon ground red pepper. This makes a TON of breading - I suggest saving half of it for later.
The breading should look like this...
NOTE: If you do have a sleeve of Saltines and want to use those instead of Chex, reduce your seasoned salt to 1/2 teaspoon (since Saltines have enough salt of their own). Otherwise, keep the same ingredients.
Now we get to the fun part - tossing it all together! This is also the part where we are going to get innovative about cutting calories. Most restaurant versions of this dish are incredibly high in fat and calories (Applebees' version has 806 calories and 19.7g fat). I imagine that most of the heart-clogging qualities of this dish comes from being dipped in whole buttermilk and deep fried.
We're not doing either of those things. We don't like clogged hearts. :-)
Instead of deep frying, we're going to use the oven. You'll want it preheated to 350 degrees. Instead of buckets of oil, we're just going to use a teency weency smidgen. To be precise, pour into a glass baking dish as little oil as you need to just barely cover the bottom (no more than 2 tablespoons). My vote is peanut oil - it handles heat much better than the others and adds a nice flavor. Other veggie oils will do, though.
Instead of buttermilk, we're mixing up a different concoction. In a bowl, whisk two egg whites with about 3/4 cup skim milk or dairy substitute (I used rice milk).
Get all of your equipment in one place.
Dip each chicken breast in the breading, then in the egg white mixture, and then back in the breading. Make sure it's good and coated. Then place in your baking dish.
Bake for about 10-15 minutes, and then flip your chicken over (be careful not to take off the breading on the bottom!). Bake for another 10 minutes or until done.
While your chicken is baking, you'll want to make the gravy. My directions on gravy are not very precise because I never make it the same way twice. In fact, my mother has told me that I need to work on my gravy making skills...but I've rarely been disappointed in my efforts.
Melt a few tablespoons of butter (I used Smart Balance Light) in a saucepan. Add some flour (I use about a quarter cup) and mix with the butter. Slowly...very slowly...add milk (or some variation thereof) to the flour mixture, whisking and mixing as you go. Bring everything to a boil - it will thicken up. Add more milk until the gravy reaches the consistency you desire. Add fresh ground pepper and seasoned salt to taste.
I hope you try this and enjoy it...I sure did.
Chicken Fried Chicken
- 4 thin chicken breasts
- salt and pepper
- 2 egg whites
- 3/4 cup milk
- peanut oil
- 8 cups Chex or 1 sleeve Saltines, crushed
- 1 t. seasoned salt
- 1 t. fresh ground pepper
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1 t. ground red pepper
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Mix together in one bowl breading ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together egg whites and milk. Dip chicken in breading, then egg mixture, then breading again. Place in a glass baking dish barely coated with oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes; turn over, then bake another 10 minutes or until done.
3-4 T. butter
1/4 cup flour
1-2 cups milk
salt and pepper
Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and mix well. Slowly stir in milk and bring to a boil. Add more milk until gravy reaches desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.