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Best Techniques to Cook Healthy Chicken
Like a lot of people, chicken is my go-to meat when I want a meal that will please everyone in my family from little kids to big, burly husbands and everything in between. My major issues with chicken are: 1. Infusing a lot of flavor into the bird and 2. Keeping it healthy (a.k.a. not a lot of fats and oils or frying, etc.)
But, we’re in luck! Some of the healthiest preparations for chicken are also the tastiest as you will see in this list. High in protein and low in fat (if you use skinless) chicken is a great option for family meals. It is like a chameleon in the kitchen – basically taking on the flavor of whatever is around. YUM!
The possibilities are endless when you grill a chicken breast – you can use an indoor grill for ease (or when the weather is bad)…an outdoor grill when you want that smoky flavor. There are literally a million combinations of dry rubs, marinades and sauces, just make sure you keep an eye on the calories and sugar if you are using a bottled sauce.
My Grilling Technique: I always use a spice rub on my grilled chicken. It packs a major flavor punch without adding a lot of calories or sugar like some marinades can do.
Get your grill up to a temperature for about 15 minutes (don’t get it much hotter than 450 degrees) and put the chicken breast directly on the heat. Cook on the first side for about 5-7 minutes and then flip it to the other side, carefully so you don’t puncture it and let all the delicious juices run out. Cook about 5-7 minutes on the other side until done. If you are using a marinade, wait to slather it on your chicken until about the last 2 minutes of cooking.
Learn how to grill on my favorite outdoor cooker, the Big Green Egg, right here.
Grilled Chicken Meal Ideas:
· Simple Grilled Chicken Breast
· Chicken Fajitas
· Chicken and Vegetable Skewers
· Asian Marinated Chicken Breasts
· Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
· Greek Chicken
Oven baking is the absolute best alternative to fried chicken. Kids are true chicken strip connoisseurs and they love the crispy coating you can get with oven baking, and they probably won’t even know it is healthier for them than fried. To keep the calories done, make sure you lightly bread it or use something like Fiber One cereal for the breading (shout out to Hungry Girl for that amazing and delicious idea!)
My Oven Baking Technique: Although you could bake a whole chicken, I prefer oven baking boneless, skinless chicken breasts. They have a tendency to dry out with this preparation, but a simple overnight marinade – low-cal salad dressing is my favorite quick marinade – is a good way to prevent the chicken breasts from getting tough.
You can do an oven “frying” technique for things like fried chicken or chicken strips where you batter and coat the chicken pieces. Or, you can start with a simply seasoned chicken breast. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the breasts on a foil or parchment lined baking sheet. For boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cook for about 30 minutes, checking until the chicken has an internal temperature of 170 degrees or the juices run clear. Depending on the size or whether you coated the chicken, this time could vary so base the doneness on the internal temperature.
Oven Baked Chicken Meal Ideas:
· Simple Baked Chicken Breasts
· Chicken Parmesan
· Homemade Chicken Strips
· Honey Baked Chicken
· Chicken Divan
· Chicken Kiev
One of my favorite weeknight meals is stir fry, especially when I want to clean out the fridge and have lots of little amounts of leftover vegetables. Stir frying is a quick chicken preparation and you can include a ton of healthy stuff along with it – my favorites are baby corn, spinach, all colors of peppers, mushrooms, pretty much anything I have on hand.
My Stir Frying Technique:Stir frying is so healthy because small pieces of chicken cook quickly at a high heat using very little oil. Using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ¼ inch strips. Make sure you have your pan or wok (absolutely love my wok!) screaming hot and add in 1 ½ tablespoons of cooking oil. Once the oil is heated, add in your chicken making sure you are constantly moving the chicken around so it cooks evenly and quickly. Once the chicken is browned and completely cooked – think 3-5 minutes – go ahead and take it out of the pan. This is where you can add your delicious veggies, throw the chicken back in toward the end to merge all the flavors and you are done!
Stir Fry Chicken Meal Ideas:
· Chicken Broccoli Stir Fry
· Garlic Chicken Stir Fry
· Chinese Chicken Stir Fry
· Orange Ginger Chicken Stir Fry
· Chicken Stir Fry Salad
Poaching or Boiling
Poaching or boiling produces the least flavorful chicken in my opinion, but it will also be tender and juicy, perfect for shredding and mixing in additional ingredients. You can work with a whole chicken here (preferably on a weekend when you have some time) and save any leftovers for future meals.
My Boiling Technique: Make sure you have a large enough stock pot to submerge your whole chicken or chicken pieces. If you are using frozen chicken, please remember to thaw it before you go ahead and boil it.
Place chicken along with any other spices you prefer (salt, peppercorns, onion, garlic, carrots, thyme or oregano are good options) and cover the chicken completely with cold water. Turn the burner on a high heat until it is boiling. As soon as the water starts the boil, turn it down to a simmer and continue cooking until done. You can use a meat thermometer to check the doneness – internal temperature should be about 170 degrees before you take it off the heat. Or, you can simply cut into it a make sure there is no pink left in the flesh.
The cooking time depends on the size of the bird. If it is a whole chicken, I would check for doneness at about an hour – it could take up to two hours to cook if the bird is large, especially since it has bones. If you are using a boneless breast or thigh, I would check doneness after about 30 minutes.
Boiled Chicken Meal Ideas:
· Chicken Noodle Soup
· Chicken Enchiladas
· Shredded Chicken Nachos
· Buffalo Chicken Pizzas
· Shredded Chicken Sandwiches
· Chicken Salad
· Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole
· Chicken Pot Pie
· Chicken Chili