When it comes to cutting calories, the microwave is the dieter's best friend. For nowhere else do meats, fish and poultry cook to such succulence with just a smidgen of fat.
The reason, of course, is that microwaving is a moist method of cooking. Foods simmer in their own juices in the microwave or steam in their own vapor, so gobs of butter or oil aren't needed to keep them from sticking. Chicken breasts don't even need their fat-laden skin to keep them moist; in fact, they microwave better when skinned.
What also makes the microwave a godsend for dieters is that it intensifies the natural flavors of foods as they cook. Chicken develops the rich flavor we associate with the farm-raised birds of our youth. Fish tastes as if it were pulled minutes earlier from the sea and fruits and vegetables brim with just-picked bouquet.
The microwave also heightens the piquancy of herbs and spices, making it possible to minimize, if not altogether eliminate, salt.
The following recipe proves these points with just 235 calories per serving. It also demonstrates a number of other microwave techniques.
The chicken breasts, for example, are arranged spoke-fashion in the casserole with the thickest parts toward the outside, where foods cook fastest. Then they're cooked at higher power. There's good reason for this. When meat is naturally tender and devoid of sinew, it's best cooked quickly. These chicken breasts, moreover, are boneless, meaning there's little danger of their cooking unevenly (bones absorb microwaves slowly).
Finally, this recipe demonstrates the importance of cooling chicken breasts covered (uncovered, they'll dry) and of choosing the proper cover. Plastic food wrap will trap too much moisture inside the casserole and make the chicken soggy. But wax paper is just right, letting some--but not all--of the steam escape so that every bite will be moist and tender.
LEMON-AND-GINGER-GLAZED CHICKEN BREASTS
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
2 green onions, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Dash crushed red pepper flakes
4 boned and skinned chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), lightly pounded
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Place lemon juice, ginger, green onions, garlic, oil and pepper flakes in 10-inch casserole 2- to 2 1/2-inches deep. Arrange chicken, spoke fashion, on top with thickest parts toward outside.
Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 7 to 9 1/2 minutes, rotating casserole 180 degrees at half time, until chicken is just tender. (If breasts are uniformly thick, turn each 180 degrees at half time.)
With slotted spoon, lift chicken to heated platter and sprinkle with salt. Cover with foil and keep warm.
Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, cornstarch, chicken broth, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and sugar. Blend into liquid in casserole and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes, stirring at half time, until sauce boils and thickens. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve. Makes 4 servings, 235 calories each.
Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%. Hoisin, fermented bean sauce, is available in Asian markets and in ethnic food sections of many supermarkets.