First Person

How to Satisfy a Teen’s Hunger: A chicken-wing makeover removes fat but retains heat

Chris Xaver Photo

Anyone who has seen a teenage boy eat knows they are voracious. Inactive teen boys from ages 14 to 18 need 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day; active ones require 2,400 to 3,200 calories, and teen athletes can burn through up to 5,000 calories a day!

They’re not just eating to eat, they’re eating to grow. Beginning at age 13, boys will gain 20 percent of their adult height and 40 percent of their adult weight. Still, all calories are not equal, so this is a great starting point for a conversation with the young men in your life. Protein calories help them (and all of us) feel more satisfied.

Recently, I spent some time in Florida hanging out with three young males, ages 10 to 20, among other guests. I asked them what they like to eat. They immediately concurred: chicken wings.

But, I wondered aloud, are traditionally prepared wings good for them? No, they decided, wings, as served in most pizza joints, are not the healthiest of dishes. Why? Because they’re fried, they answered.

They were right. In my estimate, 90 percent of restaurant wings are fried, while some are baked, and some are charbroiled. We then talked about why else wings are “unhealthy.” And it all revolved around fat. Most people believe the way to live a healthy diet is to watch how much fat we consume. Traditional chicken wings are deep fried with the skin on, and then they are bathed in butter and hot sauce. So the boys and I discussed we could reduce the fat while maintaining the flavor.

The first thing they suggested was baking or grilling the chicken wings. We could do that, I agreed, but grilling the wings with the skin on would result in many flare-ups and they’d likely be more charred than tasty.

They asked about baking them. That, too, would work—but I did mention we were in Florida where the temperature was pushing 95 degrees by 10 a.m.?

So, I asked, how about chicken “strips” cut from full-size skinless breasts dipped in wing sauce? Yes! Because it’s not the bone-in-mouth feel of the wings they like, but the hot flavor. Besides, the strips are easier to eat and there’s no pile of bones afterward to toss out. So, it seemed the strips were the way to go for this trio.

We headed to the market and got six of the biggest breasts available. When we returned home, I showed the young men how to cut the chicken into long “like-size” strips. And then the cooking process began.

We used a heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet with some olive oil. The olive oil provided a healthy fat while keeping the chicken strips from drying out. Breast meat tends to get dry quickly if overcooked or cooked too quickly. To infuse the flavor of the wing sauce into the meat, we poured a quarter of the bottle of hot sauce into the pan while the strips were cooking.

The boys were so into this process! They carefully turned the strips and watched the skillet, making sure the pieces cooked evenly. Once they were finished we simply added more hot sauce. Not butter. It’s the hot sauce that gives the flavor; the butter simply makes the experience richer. Teenage boys like the heat: part taste, part machismo. Regardless, they didn’t miss the butter or the deep-fat frying in the least. Happy teens, happy adults—a success for everyone.

Hot ‘Wings’ for Teens

6 large boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 6-ounce bottle of your favorite hot sauce (I used Goya)

Olive oil

Cut each breast length wise into three equal-sized strips.

Heat a heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet with a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken strips. Liberally add about one-quarter of the hot sauce while cooking.

Cook until done (you can cut one open to see if it’s cooked through) and then serve with additional hot sauce.

Note: One of my chefs poured his sauce into a small cup and dipped into it.

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