First, a confession. I don’t watch the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, I rarely even know who is playing. Still, I’m well aware that it is far and away America’s largest secular holiday and that the celebration requires not only watching the game on television, but also eating a hefty snack or meal while doing so.
Naturally, such a manly event calls for manly cuisine, dishes designed to be eaten by hand and that will stick to the ribs. The key food groups are meat and melted cheese, preferably deep-fried.
Buffalo-style chicken wings and chicken nuggets are just the sort of thing deep-fried deliciousness we’re talking about. And my recipe marries the two and, incredibly, does so in a way that simultaneously satisfies the soul and keeps the blood whistling through the old arteries.
There are three reasons we all love fried food. First, the food is moist and juicy. Second, the crust is crispy. And third — and this is a well-kept secret — anything cooked in fat tastes better than food cooked without it because fat amplifies flavor even if you don’t taste the fat itself. My biggest challenge in the creation of this recipe was to construct a crisp crust without deep-frying the chicken in a vat of fat.
I worked out a delicious home-style version of chicken nuggets that requires no deep-frying years ago. I started with chicken tenders, those little flaps of chicken meat attached to the underside of each chicken breast. They’re as meaty as boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but they’re much cheaper because they’re smaller, and because of a tough little tendon that runs down the middle of each tender.
So I tenderized each tender — including the tendon — by soaking it in buttermilk before cooking it, a technique I’d learned from Southern home cooks when I did my call-in show on the Food Network. I flavored the buttermilk with garlic and my favorite smoky hot sauce (Tabasco Chipotle), then threw in a hefty pinch of salt to create a brine.