Thanks to my newly-discovered love of watching football on TV, I’m super duper excited about the Super Bowl. (I even got a vintage-inspired Patriots sweatshirt to wear on Sunday to show my team spirit.) One of my fondest Super Bowl memories is from about a decade ago in California. Dave and I took over a table in a dark, wood-paneled sports bar with my parents, and we all drank beer and chowed down on chicken wings.
There will be no beer nor chicken wings at our Super Bowl bash this year. But I wondered if I could recreate the sensation of tender chicken, spicy sauce, and cool go-alongs for a healthier version that still tastes like “junk food.” Yes, technically wings are paleo, but they’re not exactly a food that makes us healthier. The proportion of fat to protein is unfavorably tilted toward the fat end of the scale — and the traditional dipping sauce of either blue cheese or ranch dressing usually means unfavorable industrial oils and dairy.
I got busy with my food-gination (Yes, I just made up a new word!) and tinkered in the kitchen. The result: Buffalo Chicken Chopped Salad.
The wings are replaced with lean chicken breasts (“brined” in the slow cooker) so the fat in the recipe can be concentrated in two other flavor sources I consider essential: the clarified butter in the wing sauce and the homemade mayo in ranch dressing. Instead of a few sad stalks of celery on the side like an after-thought, the chicken rests on a crisp bed of chopped salad. Touchdown!
Buffalo Chicken Chopped Salad
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups water
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 large cucumber, sliced very thin and quartered
2 stalks celery, sliced very thin
1/2 medium onion, sliced into very thin moons
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
1/4 cup homemade mayo
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons dried chives
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and black pepper, to taste
Cook the chicken: I learned with The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat that brining pretty much saves boneless, skinless chicken breasts from flavorlessness. So I decided to combine the brining technique with the slow cooker. It worked great! If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can poach the breasts on the stovetop instead.
For the slow cooker: Place all chicken-related ingredients in the slow cooker, cover, and cook on high for 2 hours or low for 3-4 hours.
For the stovetop: Put all chicken-related ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil, then simmer, partly covered, for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let chicken rest in the hot water spa for an additional 15-=20 minutes, then follow the rest of the instructions below.
Prep the salad: Slice all the salad ingredients as thinly as possible. If you have a mandoline slicer, all the better. (I shaved the cucumbers and celery on the finest blade of my manoline slicer, and it was perfect.) Toss everything in a very large bowl and refrigerate until it’s time to assemble.
Make the dressing: Place all ingredients — except salt and pepper — in a small bowl and mix energetically with a fork until blended. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.
Sauce the chicken: Either in the slow cooker or a large bowl, shred the chicken with two forks. It should fall apart pretty easily. Do not be bummed out by its bland color; we’re about to fix that! Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the fat. When it’s melted, add the chicken, toss to coat, then pour in the hot sauce and toss until it’s coated and kinda shiny. You can either stop there, or if you’re like me and are addicted to caramelization, let it sizzle for a few minutes to earn some brown bits.
Assemble: Toss the salad with the ranch dressing — I started with two tablespoons of dressing and added just a little at a time until the vegetables were coated but not swimming in dressing. Toss for at least two minutes for maximum coverage. Divide the salad between plates and top with a mound of Buffalo Chicken. Dig in!
Other Super Bowl-Worthy Paleo Recipes
In case you need more dino-chow approved ideas for your Super Bowl bash, I’ve pulled together a list of sporty food guaranteed to please even non-paleo eaters. Hut, hut… hike!
My Favorite (chocolate) Chili
Mexican Meatza Pie
Deconstructed Gyro Salad
Stovetop Pork Carnitas
Moroccan Meatballs (Bake the meatballs, stick on a toothpick, and serve the sauce on the side.)
Middle Eastern Kebab Meatballs (Mix 1 lb. lamb/beef w/ 1 tablespoon of this spice blend. Bake 20-25 minutes @ 375F.)
Scotch Eggs (Slice into coins, then top with either mayo or a tiny dollop of mustard (or both!).
Riceless, No-Soy Sushi (Set out tiny bowls of coconut aminos (available at Whole Foods) and wasabi for maximum yum factor.)
Spiced Nuts. (Recipe includes a small amount of sugar. If you are eating 100% clean/Whole30, skip the sugar in the recipe.)
Caramelized Coconut Chips
Smoky Pear Bites
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