'No-Fry' Fried Foods

Deep-fried favorites get a nutritional makeover, and taste yummy!

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Do you, like so many of us, often find yourself tempted by foods deep-fried in a vat of fat: potato chips, fried chicken, corn dogs, French fries? Well, I say: Why be tempted? Give your favorite fried foods a makeover, and you've got (with only a few exceptions) to-die-for-tasting, oven-fried foods that won't make those jeans feel tight.

Take a look at the "before" and "after" nutritional profiles of a couple fried foods I've lightened up:

Fried Chicken

KFC Extra-Crispy chicken breast Elaine's oven-fried chicken breast
Calories -- 460 Calories -- 261
Fat -- 28 grams Fat -- 8 grams
Saturated fat ­ 8 grams Saturated fat ­ 2 grams
Carbs ­ 19 grams Carbs ­ 13 grams
Protein ­ 34 grams Protein ­ 32 grams

SAVINGS: About 199 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving!

Garlic Fries

Ballpark garlic fries Elaine's oven-fried garlic fries
Calories -- 490 Calories -- 256
Fat -- 28 grams Fat ­ 7.7 grams
Saturated fat ­ 10 grams Saturated fat ­ 3.3 grams
Carbs ­ 56 grams Carbs ­ 42.3 grams
Protein ­ 4 grams Protein ­ 5.9 grams

SAVINGS: About 230 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving!

Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Health Benefits

Obviously, oven-frying has countless health benefits for people with heart disease and for those carrying around a few extra pounds. Oven-frying is also less likely to cause discomfort in people who suffer from irritable bowel or acid reflux -- or any other medical condition in which greasy, high-fat foods can cause big problems.

It's All in the Crunch

What makes fried foods so irresistible? We all know why: It's the CAAARUNCH! But after 15 years of lightening recipes, I've found that anything a deep-fat fryer can do, your oven can do just as well most of the time, and sometimes even better.

Whether it's fried chicken, french fries, or beef flautas, you can get that crunch when you oven-fry. And you can achieve that mouth-watering "crispy on the outside, moist on the inside" eating experience.

It is a bit of a trade-off, though. What you lose in calories and fat grams, you gain in cooking time. If you're willing to try these oven-frying techniques and add a few more minutes to your prep time, you can have your fried chicken and eat it, too.

"Anything a deep-fat fryer can do, your oven can do just as well?"

Flawless Faux-Frying Techniques

Almost anything that's traditionally coated in crumbs -- chicken nuggets, fish sticks, crab cakes -- can be oven-fried, often with the same crumb mixture. I use these 6 techniques to create tasty, lower-fat, oven-fried foods:

  • Use a small amount of oil to coat the surface of the food, then brown in the oven instead of deep frying.
  • Add moisture to meat by marinating it in buttermilk, then oven-fry.
  • Give fried yeast breads like donuts time to rise on their own. Coat the outside with canola cooking spray and brown in the oven.
  • Batters offer a bit of a challenge, but you can do two things: First, sometimes you can thicken the batter with a starch ingredient so it stands up better to oven-frying -- versus a thinner batter that is deep-fried in hot oil to cook quickly. Second, you can change from a wet batter to a drier crumb coating (crumb coatings generally oven-fry very well.)
  • Make a crispy crust by adding crispy ingredients to the outside of the food, then oven-fry, instead of deep-frying in hot oil.
  • Broil foods to quickly add color and a crispy texture.

Finger-Lickin' Oven-Fried Chicken

Use techniques 1, 2, and 6 with this recipe. Marinate skinless chicken pieces in buttermilk and coat with a seasoned flour mixture, then spray with canola cooking spray, and bake in the oven, followed with a quick turn under the broiler. This chicken is great cold, too!

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (cayenne red pepper can be substituted -- increase to 1 teaspoon if extra "heat" is desired)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Canola cooking spray

  • Remove skin from chicken pieces and discard. Combine chicken pieces and buttermilk in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Refrigerate sealed bag in a medium-size bowl for several hours or overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add flour, chipotle pepper, cumin, salt, and white pepper to a new gallon-sized, zip-top bag or medium-size shallow bowl. Stir with fork to blend ingredients well.
  • Remove a piece of chicken from buttermilk and gently shake off excess buttermilk. Immediately dip chicken into flour mixture; coat well. Holding chicken piece over a plate, spray top and bottom well with canola cooking spray. Dip chicken piece into flour mixture a second time and spray again with canola cooking spray. Place chicken bone-side down onto a cookie sheet.
  • Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken.
  • Bake until chicken is cooked throughout and coating is golden brown (about 25-30 minutes). Switch the oven to broil, and broil the chicken 6 inches from the heat for a minute or two (until outside of chicken is nicely browned), watching very carefully so as not to burn.