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Thursday 17 April 2014

Get the flavour without the fat

Food on kitchen counter
It is important to cook chicken completely through, but it is easy to overdo it and be left with dry, tasteless meat

CHICKEN recipes are some of the most popular recipes I teach, whether barbecued, roasted, stir-fried or poached. I think this is because chicken is so versatile and can be adapted to many different cuisines, flavour combinations and cooking methods to suit all seasons and occasions.

There is nothing quite like the smell of a chicken roasting away in the oven or on the BBQ. Your mouth just waters at the aroma. I would definitely recommend getting a good free-range or organic chicken. Besides the animal welfare concerns and use of antibiotics in battery hens, a 'happy' chicken tastes so much better. And you can really use every bit of the chicken, right down to the carcass for making your own chicken stock.

But even our chickens have gotten fatter! An average chicken now has a body fat percentage of 23pc, in comparison to a chicken in 1976 with an average body fat percentage of 17pc. The fat contained in chicken is of the saturated variety, and consumption of too much saturated fat is closely linked to an increased risk of heart disease. So how do we cook a tasty chicken with less fat but still loads of flavour?

Top Tips For Reducing Fat

* Roasting a chicken on a rack placed inside the baking tray will allow the fat to drip away from the meat. This also ensures a crispier finish to the chicken.

* Take some chunks of carrot, celery and onion and place the chicken on top. You can also add garlic and woody herbs like thyme and rosemary. This will add flavour to the chicken and, most importantly, the gravy.

* Other cooking methods like poaching or steaming chicken keeps the meat moist while not adding any extra fat. This is most suitable for skinless chicken breasts, as the skin won't be pleasant unless it's crispy.

* When frying or browning chicken pieces, a good quality pan is essential for reducing fat. A pan with a high-quality, non-stick coating will ensure that less oil is needed to brown the chicken. Let the pan heat up well before adding the chicken. Don't overcrowd the pan, as this will reduce the heat.

* Reduce fat by flavouring chicken in low-fat or fat-free marinades. Use ingredients such as lemon or lime juice, low-fat yoghurt, herbs and spices or wine.

* Removing the skin before you eat it eliminates about two-thirds of the fat content. I know this is most peoples' favourite part of a roast chicken, but it really is artery-clogging fat. Good news though – an organic chicken contains more monounsaturated fat and less saturated fat, which is better for heart health.

* If you make a chicken soup or casserole, skim off the fat that floats to the top with a spoon. The same goes for homemade chicken stock. It doesn't do anything for the flavour and will create a murky, cloudy stock.

Top Tips For safe chicken

* Never wash raw chicken in the kitchen sink. This will lead to the spread of dangerous bacteria like salmonella. Instead, pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper and discard the paper safely. Wipe down any surfaces you may have touched with kitchen disinfectant and paper towels.

* Keep a separate chopping board for cutting up raw chicken. When finished, rinse the board well in cold water. Using hot water first will 'cook' the chicken into the board. Wash well with very hot, soapy water and dry very well. Chopping boards benefit from air drying before you pack them away.

* It is important to cook chicken completely through, but it is easy to overdo it and be left with dry, tasteless meat. For recipes using diced chicken breasts, slice open the largest piece and check for any pink colour. It should be completely white and firm. For a whole roast chicken, gently pull the leg away. It should move easily and the juices should be clear with no tinge of pink. If in doubt, get a meat thermometer from any kitchen shop to measure the core temperature and let you know when the chicken is cooked through.

* Don't crowd chicken pieces. Leave a bit of room in between. This will ensure even cooking and also allow flavours from sauces and marinades to infuse properly. If you have made a large quantity of chicken casserole, divide it between two pots.

* If using a marinade for basting, set some aside before placing raw chicken in it. Basting with marinade that has been in contact with raw chicken may cause food poisoning if the marinade doesn't reach a high enough temperature to kill bacteria.

* To save any leftovers, cool the chicken down within 90 minutes of being cooked, then cover well and refrigerate. You can freeze the carcass until you're ready to make stock.

All recipes are taken from 'Relish BBQ Cookbook' by Rozanne Stevens, available online at www.rozannestevens.com and from book shops.

Twitter: @RozanneStevens

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