published Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Slimming down a calorie bomb — Buffalo chicken

This lighter take on buffalo chicken pairs chicken breasts sauteed in hot sauce with Israeli couscous, peas, celery and creamy blue cheese.
This lighter take on buffalo chicken pairs chicken breasts sauteed in hot sauce with Israeli couscous, peas, celery and creamy blue cheese.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Invented in Buffalo, N.Y., during the ’60s, Buffalo chicken wings have become a national favorite. Big surprise. If fat is where the flavor is, and if everyone’s a sucker for flavor, Buffalo chicken couldn’t lose.

A mad scientist dreaming up the Frankenstein of comfort foods might have come up with something very like Buffalo chicken wings. It starts with the fattiest part of the bird — the wings — which then are deep-fried, tossed into a vat of melted butter and hot sauce, and finally dipped in blue cheese sauce.

Yikes! Think of the calories. Single servings of Buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce can pack more than 1,000 calories. And that’s just for an appetizer.

So let’s tackle this monster and somehow transform it into a weeknight meal. Using all of the dish’s signature elements and adding orzo or couscous and peas turned finger food into a dinner-in-a-pot pasta dish. This version is quick to make, big on flavor and much lighter.

First, swap out chicken wings for boneless skinless chicken. We love chicken wings because the skin-to-meat ratio is so high. And because the skin is where the flavor — and the fat — reside. After cubing the chicken, sauté it in a nonstick pan, and flavor it with hot sauce. The nonstick pan allows us to use a lone tablespoon of butter, rather than the 4 to 6 tablespoons called for in the classic recipe.

For the pasta, try orzo or Israeli couscous. After partially boiling the orzo or couscous, toss some frozen peas into the pot. The little rascals are actually very high in fiber and contain a good number of micronutrients.

The orzo or couscous finishes cooking in the skillet with some added chicken broth, in the company of the aforementioned peas, and only 3 ounces of blue cheese in a recipe that serves six people. Top it off with celery, another of the classic recipe’s staple ingredients. Tempting though it may be to do so, do not leave out the celery. It not only contributes its signature crunch, it works as a cooling counterpart to the spicy pasta.

Creamy Buffalo Chicken and Peas

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 to 2 tablespoons hot sauce, or to taste

8 ounces whole-wheat orzo or whole-wheat Israeli couscous

2 cups frozen peas

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1 cup finely chopped celery

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

While the water heats, in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the hot sauce and a hefty pinch of salt, then set aside.

Add the orzo or couscous to the boiling water, stir and cook according to the package instructions until it is almost al dente. Add the peas, then return the water to a boil. As soon as the water returns to a boil, drain and add the peas and pasta to the skillet. Return the skillet to medium heat, add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for 1 minute, or until the pasta is tender.

Add the blue cheese and simmer until the cheese is melted and the sauce has thickened. Transfer to 6 bowls and top each portion with some of the celery. Serve immediately.

Start to finish: 35 minutes.

Servings: 6.

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