Best Chicken Recipe for the New Year: Delicious and Healthy
By: Patti Cook, BA, MS, Ed.D. / Culinary Student
When people find out I’m a health-conscious chef and in culinary school, they often ask me for secrets of how they can eat healthier. As the new year approaches, these requests are often tinged with hopes to lose weight too. Their desire matches current cooking trends, especially at this time of year, to eat healthier and make weight-loss resolutions. My response is always the same: to eat healthier (and/or lose weight), make tasty food in your own kitchen. Sometimes I add a good friend’s sage wisdom and tell them to sit down at the kitchen table and eat it with people they like too.
What I’ve come to understand is that knowing how to use healthier ingredients can confuse many new or want-to-be cooks. Even basic cooking methods can be challenging. My best friend, a budding 50+-year-old cook, said the hardest part of learning to cook was figuring out where the ingredients were in the store and then understanding the recipes. She called me a lot. She is a quick study, so she eventually found her way in the massive grocery stores of New Jersey and in her own tiny kitchen. She also learned one of the most important secrets to eating healthier: it is key to have a few basic cooking methods and recipes under your belt that are nutritious, budget-friendly, easy and delicious. And delicious is different for all of us, so it matters that you learn to incorporate healthy ingredients that you love.
One of my favorite units in the culinary program has been the poultry cutting and cooking part. I love chicken; it is one of my favorite foods. It’s also a budget superstar and a nutritious low-fat protein choice. My absolute favorite new go-to chicken recipe is a creation based on what I learned in the classic cooking methods unit, the world flavors unit, the health and wellness section and the poultry unit. I’ve made it lots of times, and every time, the people around the kitchen table eat every bite and then lick every drop of sauce off their plate too. The sauce is irresistible: rich, bright and lightly luscious all at once. One friend suggested I title it “the most fabulous fake fried chicken with creamy saucy herb gravy”; another countered with “just the best chicken ever.” I liked both their ideas, but went with Crunchy Chicken in Creamy Herb Sauce, since it describes the fried-food crunch and the creamy, luscious sauce. And I like to add that every bite is good for you. The recipe incorporates basic healthy cooking tips like the use of fresh herbs, cooking spray and healthier oils, whole grains and low- (or lower-) calorie ingredients like evaporated milk instead of cream, all of which bring lots of pop in flavor and texture.
From my kitchen seat, eating healthier doesn’t mean you go without eating delicious food (like crunchy chicken in creamy herb sauce), it means you find easy ways to decrease the not-so-good stuff like fat and calories and increase the good stuff like healthier ingredients and amazing flavor. And, most important, enjoy every bite—especially with people you like.
Healthy Crunchy Chicken with Creamy Herb Sauce
1 tablespoon canola or extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into finger-size strips
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup bran flake cereal crumbs (to crush bran flakes, put in a plastic bag and lightly pound with a heavy spoon until you get crumbs the size of small peas)
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil and chives), divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
¼ cup evaporated skim milk
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush oil on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put baking sheet in the oven while you prepare chicken.
2. Whisk buttermilk and 1 teaspoon mustard in a large bowl. Add chicken strips and toss to coat. In a separate shallow bowl, mix cornmeal, cereal crumbs, 1 tablespoon of the chopped herbs, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Take the chicken strips out of the buttermilk and roll in the cornmeal mixture. Using tongs, transfer the chicken strips to the hot baking sheet. Lightly coat them with cooking spray and return to the oven. Bake until the undersides are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn the strips over and continue baking until golden brown, no longer pink in the center and have reached an internal temperature of 165°, about 10 minutes more.
4. While the chicken is baking, prepare the sauce. Whisk cornstarch into ¼ cup broth in a small bowl. Bring the remaining ¾ cup broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and simmer on low until it thickens, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in evaporated milk, honey (or sugar), the remaining 1 tablespoon mustard, remaining chopped herbs and remaining ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Simmer on low until ready to serve.
5. To serve, spoon some of the sauce onto a plate and then top with chicken pieces. Garnish with additional fresh herbs, if desired.
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