Healthy fried chicken? Flash frying is the key!
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
I know what you did last weekend.
You splurged on a big, juicy, extra-crispy piece of fried chicken — or maybe two — at that family picnic. And then you lamented the fact that you can’t eat it more often. Fried chicken is one of our best-loved comfort foods, but that incredibly greasy stuff remains off-limits if you’re trying to keep a tight rein on your weight.
Unless, of course, you fry out the calories and fat in a flash.
My recipe for chicken carnitas is so deceitfully delicious — full of flavor with a crisp outer crust — no one will suspect that it is low in calories. Compared to classic carnitas (which traditionally are made with pork), which can pack 1,180 calories and 62 grams of fat a serving, these babies come in at just 314 calories with 14 grams of fat. I don’t know about you, but I am impressed.
My carnitas are a good example of the techniques I use to skinny-up many of the fattening foods we love. I start by microwaving skinless chicken thighs — a nearly fat-free but incredibly moist cut — until cooked through. Microwaving might seem unusual, but it reduces the amount of time the chicken must be cooked in oil, thereby cutting tons of calories.
Next, I submerge the microwaved chicken pieces in a foamy egg white bath, then dredge them in a spicy mix of whole-wheat flour and cornmeal. Using egg whites (instead of whole eggs) cuts the fat, while the whole-wheat flour and cornmeal add fiber and flavor.
Now comes the low-cal magic: flash-frying. Since the chicken is already cooked, it needs only 12 seconds in 400 F oil, as opposed to 10 to 15 minutes for traditional pan frying or deep-fat frying in 350 F oil. By spending so little time in the oil, the chicken and breading absorb far less of it, yet the outside still has time to fry up to a perfectly feather-light crunch. The mouthwatering moisture comes from the meat’s natural juices instead of the oil fusing with the batter.
And there’s still more to love about these carnitas. They’re served with a salad of lettuce, red onions, cherry tomatoes and lime. No oil here either; the chunks of avocado you serve with each plate is all the fat you need for taste, and it’s a healthy fat.
These guilt-free, juicy pieces of chicken truly do taste like the real thing, dispelling that age-old maxim that getting rid of the fat means getting rid of the flavor!
Take this dish to your next summer picnic. You can whip it up in around 25 minutes, too. Because that’s what Now Eat This! is all about. Enjoying the foods we love and the healthy habits we want. Now!
— For a spicy option, sprinkle 1 thinly sliced red or green chili on top of the salad or add a few dashes of hot sauce.
— Microwave the limes on high for 15 seconds before you cut and squeeze them. This helps you get every last bit of juice out of each one.
— Use your frying thermometer exactly as directed by the manufacturer. Carefully monitor the temperature of the oil every 5 minutes so that it does not exceed 400 F.
— When microwaving the chicken, keep in mind that the chunks toward the outside of the plate will cook faster than those in the middle. So when flipping the chicken, also rotate the pieces on the plate so that inner chunks are moved to the outside.
— To keep the avocado chunks intact, don’t toss them with the other salad ingredients. Just set them on the finished salads.
— Let the oil cool on the stove to room temperature. Then use a funnel to pour it back into its original container and screw the cap back on for easy disposal.
FLASH FRIED CHICKEN CARNITAS WITH LIME, AVOCADO AND RED ONION CEVICHE
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 quarts grape seed or corn oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Ground black pepper
2 1/4 tablespoons Goya Adobo seasoning (available in the Hispanic foods section), divided
2 egg whites
2 1/2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
4 cups chunked iceberg lettuce (2-inch pieces)
16 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 ripe Hass avocado, peeled and cut into 8 chunks
16 sprigs fresh cilantro
Place the sliced red onions in a small stainless steel bowl. With a fine grater or zester, zest the skin of 1 lime over the onions. Slice the zested lime as well as three additional limes in half, then squeeze the juice over the onions. Add a pinch of salt, then mix. Submerge the onions in the juice; use the squeezed limes as a weight to push down any onions sticking out of the juice.
Cover the onions with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. Marinate the onions in the juice for as long as possible, at least 15 minutes or up to 3 days.
Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large (at least 6-quart) heavy pot. There should be at least 2 inches of oil in the pot. Clip a deep-frying thermometer to the side of the pot according to the manufacturer’s directions. Set the heat to medium and heat oil to 400 F. Do not cover the pot.
Cut each chicken thigh into 4 to 5 even chunks. Arrange the chunks on a microwave-safe plate and season both sides with pepper and 1/4 tablespoon of the Adobo powder. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Turn each piece of chicken over, then microwave on high until the chunks are just cooked through, about another 1 to 2 minutes, depending on your microwave. Let the chicken cool to room temperature.
Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat with a fork until just foamy, about 1 minute. In a separate wide and shallow bowl or cake pan, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of Adobo powder, the paprika, cornmeal and flour. Add the cooled chicken pieces to the egg whites and toss to coat well.
One at a time, lift the chicken pieces from the egg whites and transfer to the flour mixture, turning each to coat thoroughly. Let the chicken sit in one layer over the flour mixture. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly prior to assembling the salad.
Place the iceberg chunks in a bowl and add the cherry tomatoes. Drain the lime juice from the onions (reserving the juice) and add the onions, a dash of salt and 2 tablespoons of the reserved lime juice to the lettuce and tomatoes. Toss to dress evenly. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates. Divide the avocado pieces between the salads.
Working in 4 batches, fry the chicken in the oil until deep golden brown, about 12 seconds. Using metal tongs or a slotted metal spoon, remove the chicken pieces from the oil and transfer them to a plate with either a wire rack on top or paper towels to drain off any excess oil.
Divide the chicken between the salads, then top each with 4 sprigs of cilantro. Slice the remaining lime into 4 wedges and serve one with each salad.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 314 calories; 14 g fat (40 percent of total calories, 2 g saturated); 94 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 27 g protein; 5 g fiber; 881 mg sodium.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rocco DiSpirito is author of the “Now Eat This!” and “Now Eat This! Diet” cookbooks.
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