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 it is far and away America's largest secular holiday and 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 deep-fried deliciousness we're talking about. And my recipe marries the two. Incredibly, it also 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 because fat amplifies flavor, even if you don't taste the fat itself. These chicken nuggets require no deep-frying.

Chicken tenders are as meaty as boneless, skinless chicken breasts, only much cheaper because they're smaller, and because of a tough little tendon that runs down the middle of each tender.

Tenderize each tender - including the tendon - by soaking it in buttermilk before cooking it. 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.

The dish is still fairly caloric because the crumb mixture soaks up oil like a sponge, so I use vegetable oil cooking spray on the chicken and cook it in the top third of a hot oven. If it is not quite as crispy as the sauteed version, it's still ridiculously flavorful.

Buffalo Chicken Tenders

Ingredients:

•2 garlic cloves, smashed

•1 teaspoon salt

•1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot sauce, divided

•2 cups plus 6 tablespoons buttermilk, divided

•1 pound chicken tenders

•3/4 cup whole-wheat Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

•1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

•1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise

•1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

•1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:

Combine the garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce and 2 cups of the buttermilk. Whisk until the salt is dissolved. Add the chicken tenders and stir to coat well with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 10 hours.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray it with olive oil cooking spray.

Combine the whole-wheat and panko breadcrumbs. In another bowl, whisk together remaining buttermilk, mayonnaise, blue cheese and lemon juice. Transfer to a ramekin for dipping. Pour remaining hot sauce into a second ramekin.

Use a colander to drain the chicken, but do not pat it dry. Dip each chicken piece in the breadcrumb mixture, making sure it is coated on both sides. Arrange the chicken on prepared baking sheet and spritz tops with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake on the oven's middle shelf for 10 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake for 5 minutes more, or until just cooked through. Let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a platter. Serve with both dipping sauces.

Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories; 80 calories from fat (27 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (3 g saturated;

0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate;

1 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 33 g protein; 1,120 mg sodium.

Servings: 4