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Chicken: BANTAMWEIGHTS : Traditional recipes can be reworked to eliminate much of the fat, the current dietary undesirable

April 20, 1989|BETSEY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

I heard friends brag about how they "lost seven pounds in one week" on a special diet. But one seldom hears how they put it all back on the instant they went off the miracle cure.

Diets come and diets go. One recommends loading up on carbohydrates. Another suggests that everything will be fine if you just eliminate all fats. Still another offers total success if you simply live on some sort of master-mix drinkable meals. And each is billed as absolutely the best and easiest way to get your weight exactly where you want it with the least trouble.

Hogwash!

A restrictive diet, unless undertaken at doctors' orders, can be such a pain to follow that it becomes almost impossible to stick with it. Besides, a person in normal good health who simply wants to keep his or her weight under control is really better off following a well-balanced eating pattern that includes the basic four food groups and getting plenty of exercise.

The lack of flavor in many restrictive diets is the bugaboo for most dieters. It's hard to be enthusiastic about a meal devoted to bland and textureless foods. Many of these diets do indeed make the pounds melt away like magic in a hurry. But one really can't stay on them forever. Instead, it's better to adjust not just your eating habits but your cooking techniques. And that's not as difficult as it may seem.

Fats seem to be the current undesirables in our diets, with good reason. Most of us would definitely be better off if we reduced the amount of fat in our meals; certainly our heart health would benefit from such a move. But fats happen to add a great deal of flavor to our foods, so eliminating them altogether puts us back into the bland food category. And it also means the total elimination of some of our favorite dishes based on frying or baking.

That's where changing some cooking techniques can help. Just a few standard changes in food preparation can make a big difference in the amount of fat one eats. And it can also mean a gradual loss of excess weight. But the loss of a pound or two a week can add up more quickly than one realizes. And by changing your cooking and eating habits, it's quite possible to keep off the pounds you drop this way with no trouble.

To illustrate how this can work, we redesigned the cooking methods and eliminated a lot of the fat in simple, old-fashioned chicken dishes that are as familiar to most of us as a peanut-butter sandwich.

Consider chicken cacciatore, for instance. Ordinarily one would saute chicken parts in a fair amount of olive oil until the skin was nicely browned and crisp before adding the rest of the flavorful ingredients. There's an easy way to reduce the fat in this classic recipe, however, without harming the traditional flavor.

By skinning the chicken parts (much of the fat in a chicken is in the skin) you automatically eliminate unnecessary calories and excess fat. Next, instead of sauteing the chicken in three or four tablespoons of olive oil as recommended in many of the older recipes, simply brush the skinless chicken with a modicum of oil to help retain the moisture, and brown the chicken under the broiler. Or, if having the chicken wear a golden glow isn't that important to you, the meat may be steamed. In either case, there will be very little discernable flavor reduction when one tastes the completed dish.

Accent on Content

Please note that the accent in preparing any reduced-fat dish is on lowering the fat content, not eliminating it altogether. This type of change in preparing foods can be all but undetectable by the diner, yet over a period of time it will slowly help one painlessly develop new ways of more healthful eating.

The following recipes are based on well-loved chicken favorites that are familiar to most. We have, however, adapted them to newer cooking methods that leave all the flavor in while reducing the fat and calorie content. The new versions are not meant to be low-calorie foods, so for that reason we are not printing the calorie content. But they are greatly reduced in both fat and calorie content from the originals. And by making similar changes in the way you prepare other foods--whether meat, fish or vegetables--you'll gradually reduce the total fat content of your diet.

BUFFET CHICKEN CACCIATORE

2 small chickens, quartered and skinned

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 green pepper, cut in thin strips

1 (1-pound, 12-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine or water

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, optional

1/2 cup sliced stuffed olives, optional

Hot cooked fettuccine

Chopped parsley

Place chicken parts in broiler pan. Brush chicken lightly with 1 tablespoon oil and broil about 5 inches from heat source, turning once, until chicken is lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.

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