When I was 18, a chicken recipe that launched on the Oprah Winfrey show went the 1990s equivalent of viral. It was seemingly in every newspaper and women’s magazine: Rosie Daley’s Un-Fried Chicken. Swept up in the juggernaut, we made it at my house. I recall everyone loving its savory, golden-brown breading that so mirrored its fried cousin. It really seemed like it could have fooled anyone who wasn’t in on the secret: the chicken isn’t deep-fried, it’s baked in the oven.
“The ’90s are in,” my tween daughter recently informed me. If that’s true, then I am suddenly super cool by default. I started schooling her on the finer points of Sassy magazine, but she quickly tuned me out.
Rosie’s un-fried chicken surfaced in my memory. Does it hold up as well as Doc Martens paired with flowered leggings? I dug up the recipe to find out.
Oprah’s Magic Touch
The ’90s were the heyday of Oprah’s afternoon talk show, and also of her very public ups and downs with her weight. She hired a personal chef, Rosie Daley, who took Oprah’s favorite comfort foods and made them lighter.
So enthralled was Oprah that she invited Rosie on the show to make some recipes on the air (oooh, ’90s hair alert!), including this un-fried chicken. Then in 1994, Rosie came out with a charmingly low-key cookbook, In the Kitchen With Rosie. You know how things go when Oprah touts your book. The hardcover sold 5.5 million copies in less than six months. It remains one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time.
Rosie’s un-fried chicken was one of the teaser recipes that went out to the press. Cooks across America were so curious to try it, clipping it from the paper. If social media existed at the time, TikToks of un-fried chicken would have been rampant.
What Was Special About Un-Fried Chicken?
In the ’90s, calories from fat were the devil incarnate. For her un-fried chicken, Rosie stripped off its skin, soaked it in ice water, dredged it in low-fat yogurt, and then rolled it in highly seasoned breadcrumbs (unlike fat, carbs were totally okay back then).
Then Rosie placed it on a greased baking sheet and sprayed it with strategic bursts of cooking spray before baking. An hour later it emerged, crisp and enticing. Ditching the skin cut calories and ensured a crunchier breading, and the use of yogurt was novel at the time.
29 years later, I made this for my parents a second time. Our intention was to have only one piece each because we had fresh corn on the cob to pig out on. But it was so juicy and flavorful that we ditched the corn and each had two generous pieces of chicken, totally negating the recipe’s original slimming-down angle. Thankfully, nowadays my family eats food because we like it, not because it has a gimmick. Removed from its original guilt-free framing, the chicken could simply nourish and delight us.
My Version of Rosie’s Un-Fried Chicken
I tinkered a bit the second time I made it. I skipped the ice water and marinated the chicken directly in the yogurt. I bumped the temp from 400°F to 425°F to get the breading darker and crispier. I kept the spice rack explosion in the breading the same, as it’s key to the chicken’s appeal. My daughter and her dad scarfed it down with gusto.
After a 2002 cookbook with Andrew Weil, Rosie slipped into what I hope is blissfully content obscurity. But her un-fried chicken needs to come out of the cobwebs. I bet your family will love it as much as mine.
How I Make Rosie’s Un-Fried Chicken
Adapted from Rosie Daley. If you use plain breadcrumbs, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of salt. If you are using panko, pulse it in a food processor first to get a finer texture.
For 4 servings, you’ll need:
- 3 to 4 pounds bone-in drumsticks, thighs, or breasts (if the breasts are large, cut them in half)
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Remove the skin from the chicken. This can be tricky, especially for the drumsticks. Use a paper towel to help grip the slippery chicken skin as you pull. Discard the skin.
Put the yogurt in a gallon zip-top bag. Add the chicken, seal closed, massage the bag to coat the pieces evenly, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. As the yogurt marinates, pre-heat the oven to 425°F. Spray an unlined baking sheet well with cooking spray.
Combine the breadcrumbs, flour, and remaining ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl.
One piece at a time, remove the chicken from the yogurt; let the excess glop off back into the bag. Dredge in the breadcrumbs on both sides to coat. Place on the baking sheet. Spray the chicken with cooking spray. Don’t skimp; make sure no dry, floury spots remain.
Bake the chicken for 20 minutes. Carefully flip the chicken over with a thin metal spatula, trying not to disrupt any of the breading. If it breaks off, don’t worry–that’s just part of the oven-fried chicken game. Spray any parts that still look dry with more cooking spray.
After 20 more minutes in the oven, check the temperature. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a piece away from the bone should register at least 165°F. I use only drumsticks and thighs and prefer mine at 180°F to 185°F; they’re more succulent that way. Serve immediately, though leftovers are pretty good cold.