Chosen Eats: Baked Buffalo Chicken Bites

I’m not sure who decided to schedule the culmination of the professional football season at the beginning of the year, but it feels like a personal attack on my annual attempt to eat healthfully. I’m already priming myself for the situation I know I’ll find myself in on ­Saturday: surrounded by cheesy, fried and generally unhealthy food. What else would you want to eat when you watch a sporting event?

I’ve learned that the best way to ensure there’s going to be at least one lighter dish at a social gathering is to bring it myself. And the best healthy dishes are ones that imitate the full-fat versions without claiming to be the same. These bite-sized chicken pieces have the same spicy, bright flavor of classic chicken wings, but instead of a fried exterior, they’re defined by their super juicy meat, which they get from a quick brine.

Baked Buffalo Chicken Bites

Serves 5

If you opt for the blue cheese accompaniment, there’s no substitution for the real thing. But by sprinkling some crumbles over the chicken instead of dipping it in dressing, you’ll save calories without sacrificing flavor.

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup table salt
2 quarts cold water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup Frank’s RedHot sauce
4 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Blue cheese crumbles (optional)

1. In very large container, stir salt into cold water. Place chicken in water and let brine for 45 minutes. (If no room in refrigerator for container, dump some ice cubes into water halfway through brining.) Ten minutes before chicken has finished brining, place oven rack in upper-middle position and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place wire rack in rimmed baking sheet.

2. Remove chicken from brine. Discard brine. Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels and cut into 1-inch pieces. Transfer chicken pieces to large bowl. Add flour and cornstarch to bowl and stir chicken until evenly coated.

3. Transfer chicken pieces to prepared baking sheet in one layer, leaving any excess cornstarch and flour behind. Transfer to upper-middle rack in preheated oven and cook until chicken registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in large bowl, whisk together hot sauce, margarine or butter and lemon juice. Transfer chicken to bowl with sauce and toss to coat. Crumble blue cheese over top, if using, and serve.

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