Buffalo chicken: Slimming down a calorie bomb

March 26, 2014 

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’ve 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.

I hate to be a spoilsport, but 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 I decided to 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, I think I succeeded, mostly by turning finger food into a dinner-in-a-pot pasta dish. My version is quick to make, big on flavor, and much lighter.

First, I swapped 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, I sauteed it in a nonstick pan, and flavored 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, I like orzo, which looks like large grains of rice. And by the way, you finally can find good quality whole-wheat orzo in the supermarket.

After partially boiling the orzo, I toss some frozen peas into the pot. I used to think that peas were just a sweet and starchy vegetable with little nutrition. When I finally took the time to do some research, I discovered to my delight that the little rascals are actually very high in fiber and contain a good number of micronutrients.

The orzo 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. I topped it off with celery, another of the classic recipe’s staple ingredients.

HEALTHY recipe from C3

Cream 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.

Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories; 70 calories from fat (24 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 40 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 20 g protein; 440 mg sodium.

Start to finish: 35 minutes Yield: Makes 6 servings Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

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