When you think of chicken, do you picture crumbed or fried chicken, coated in eleven secret herbs and spices? If so, it’s time to take a fresh look at chicken!
Chicken is a great choice as part of a healthy diet – it’s a good source of lean protein, and can offer many health benefits when cooked and prepared correctly. Calorie-wise, it’s also a winner: 100g of skinless chicken breast has only 110 calories and 2.5g fat.
However, many people love to pile on extra calories when cooking or preparing chicken, by coating it in sugary or high-fat sauces, toppings and oil. Let’s discover the best ways to cook and prepare this high-potential protein.
Steaming is an excellent – and delicious – way to cook chicken, vegetables or fish. Steaming requires no oil or fat, and also allows you to infuse tasty flavours into your chicken while it cooks.
What do I need?
Steaming is done using a bamboo steamer, a metal steamer (which looks a little like a metal colander), or a double boiler pot.
Lightly score the top of small chicken breast pieces. Marinate them in your favourite flavours. Try soy sauce, minced ginger and lime juice for an oriental flavour.
Pour a small amount of water into a pot and bring to the boil. Place your chicken pieces into the steamer in a single layer, and top each piece with chopped shallots and lime slices (or other variations).
Reduce the heat until your pot of water is gently simmering, and place your steamer on top. Steam until the chicken turns opaque and is cooked through. Slice and serve with a sprinkling of your favourite fresh herbs. Accompany with vegetables or salad.
- Make sure your steamer fits tightly on top of the pot, you don’t want all the steam escaping out the sides!
- If you’re using a bamboo steamer, line the base of the steamer with baking paper first. Use a small knife to poke three or four holes in the baking paper, to allow the steam through.
- Keep an eye on the water level in the pot below your steamer. Top up the water if necessary. Make sure that the water level is not too high, you don’t want it bubbling up through the steamer.
Although most kitchens have a microwave, it’s often solely used for defrosting or reheating. Ever considered microwaving some chicken for dinner? Microwaving also doesn’t require any added fat or oil, and is much quicker than frying or baking chicken.
What do I need?
A microwave, a microwave-proof dish and some baking paper.
For a different way to microwave chicken, try making chicken parcels. Lay out as many squares of baking paper as you have pieces of chicken. Make the squares large enough to enclose the chicken, with room to secure the edges. You can use any boneless cut of chicken for this dish.
Place one piece of chicken on each square of paper. Sprinkle the chicken with desired flavourings – include at least one liquid.
Suggested combinations include:
- soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and minced ginger
- lime juice, soy sauce and chopped chilli
- sliced shallots, minced garlic and unsweetened pineapple juice
Bring two opposite sides of the paper up to meet above the chicken, and scrunch or fold together to seal. Seal both open ends of the parcel by scrunching. Repeat with remaining squares.
Carefully place your chicken parcels in a microwave-proof dish and place in your microwave. Check your microwave instruction manual to see how long and at what power level the chicken should be cooked at. Check it regularly to prevent overcooking. Leave the chicken to stand for a few minutes before serving.
- Wrapping the chicken in baking paper with the flavourings keeps the chicken moist while it cooks, and allows the flavours to penetrate the chicken.
- Don’t forget food continues to cook for a short while after microwaving, so be careful not to overcook your chicken.
Grilling is a dream cooking method if you’re watching your weight. Quick and easy, you can grill most types of meat and vegetables. You can easily cook a whole meal on the grill, if you grill capsicum, eggplant and zucchini slices with your chicken.
What do I need?
There are many options for grilling. You can use the grill plate in your oven, a barbecue hotplate, a heavy iron grill pan on your stove, or a grilling machine (similar to a large sandwich maker, it grills food on both sides at once).
Marinate your chicken pieces a few hours before cooking, if possible.
Try these ideas:
- satay sauce
- soy sauce and honey
- unsweetened pineapple juice and grated fresh ginger
- sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce
- honey and grainy mustard
- chopped fresh herbs and minced garlic
You can use any type of chicken pieces for this dish – thighs stay nice and moist, or breast is lean and quick to cook. Drumsticks and other cuts work well too. Small pieces of chicken can be threaded onto skewers and grilled for quick kebabs.
Lightly spray your grill with cooking spray. Heat the grill plate and cook chicken on both sides until browned and cooked through.
- Baste chicken occasionally with your marinade while cooking to keep it moist and flavourful.
- Using the barbecue in summer keeps the kitchen cool and makes a nice alfresco change of scenery!
- Leftover grilled chicken pieces are great for lunchboxes.
Although poaching might sound a bit ‘retro’, it’s a flavourful way to cook chicken without adding any fat. Poaching means to cook food in hot liquid, just below boiling point.
You’re probably familiar with poached eggs, which are usually cooked in water. However, poaching chicken in water can result in a fairly bland dinner. Try this suggestion for a flavour-filled alternative.
What do I need?
A pot or frying pan that is large enough to fit the chicken pieces snugly in a single layer. Lots of excess liquid surrounding your chicken can reduce the flavour.
Place your chicken in a pot in a single layer. Chicken breasts work well, but bone-in chicken cuts are also suitable. When cooked, the chicken should be tender enough to easily come off the bone.
Add chicken stock, some whole cloves, your favourite dried herbs, chopped onion, garlic and celery to the pot. Use just enough stock to completely cover the chicken and vegetables.
Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Continue cooking until your chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear when pieced with a skewer. Remove the chicken and rest before serving.
- You need enough liquid to completely cover the chicken, but excess liquid will dilute the flavour.
- The liquid should only be gently simmering – vigorous boiling can toughen the meat.
- Resting meat after cooking allows the juices to redistribute through the meat, resulting in moister, tender chicken.
- Experiment with different flavoured poaching liquids – you could use a white wine and water combination, add chopped carrots to the pot, throw in some mustard seeds or dried rosemary, or add grated fresh ginger to the liquid.
Recipes and tips
Although these cooking methods are great for chicken, you can also use them to cook other meats such as turkey or fish. Or, try grilling, steaming or microwaving your vegetables.