Cook to Get Cut: 5 Healthy Chicken Recipes That Taste Shockingly Good
When you’re looking to get lean, exercise is only half the equation. You can do all the crunches in the world, but the foods you eat are every bit as important. As part of our Cook to Get Cut series, we’ll show you how to use some of the healthiest eats to sculpt your physique without sacrificing flavor. Getting fit never tasted so good.
Few people would dispute chicken’s reputation as a healthy protein. A four-ounce portion of white meat packs more than 26 grams of protein, contains a marginal amount of fat, and only sets you back 124 calories. In their effort to eat well, many folks make the mistake of leaving the protein unadorned. Plain, baked chicken might aid your ability to build and heal muscle, but your taste buds will likely cry out in protest.
The solution to bland chicken is cooking with bold flavors and using smart techniques. Chinese takeout is loaded with grease and preservatives, but you can replicate the same flavors without resorting to those fillers. And what about fried chicken? A few tweaks yield a much healthier bird with just as much crunch as traditional versions. Armed with these five recipes, you’ll never suffer from chicken boredom again.
1. General Tso’s Chicken
Stir-frys are great for weeknight meals since they come together so fast. Because you’re in control of the ingredients, it’s also a cinch to make them pretty nutritious. The problem comes when you opt for boneless, skinless chicken breast. Once cut into tiny pieces, the meat turns dry and tough if you overcook it by just a bit. Instead of going with the standard white meat, try thighs instead. Though the dark meat contains more calories and a tad more fat, it’s still a smart protein choice. And that additional fat almost guarantees you’ll end up with juicy meat.
For a healthy upgrade on a takeout favorite, try this simple chicken stir-fry from Eating Well. Ingredients like rice wine, soy sauce, garlic, and scallions combine to create a flavor-packed sauce. Serve this dish with some brown rice and steamed veggies to round out the meal.
- 5 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
- 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, divided
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry, divided
- 1 large egg white
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ¾ cup water
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups snow peas
Directions: In a medium bowl, combine 4 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, and the egg white in a bowl. Mix to combine, then add chicken, and stir to coat.
In a small bowl, combine remaining cornstarch, soy sauce, and rice wine with the water, hoisin sauce, and rice vinegar. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add chicken, and cook without turning, using a spoon to break up any pieces that stick, until golden, about 2 minutes. Stir chicken pieces and cook until golden all over, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan, then add scallions and garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add peas. Cook, stirring often, until bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Add reserved sauce mixture. Cook, stirring, until thickened about 1 minute. Return chicken to pan, and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute longer. Serve.
2. Braised Chicken Thighs with Carrots, Potatoes, and Thyme
Braising is one of the easiest ways to create layers of flavor without tons of ingredients or additional fat. This chicken and root vegetable recipe from Williams-Sonoma, adapted from a recipe that appeared in Williams-Sonoma: Weeknight Gluten Free, is especially clever as it uses boneless chicken thighs to seriously slash the cooking time. Though this method calls for gluten-free flour to thicken the sauce, all-purpose will work equally well.
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Sweet paprika
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 pound red-skinned potatoes, about 2 inches in diameter, quartered
- 8 carrots, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1½-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon gluten-free flour mix
- 1⅓ cups low-sodium chicken broth
- ⅓ cup dry vermouth or white wine
- 1½ tablespoons minced fresh thyme
Directions: Season chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika. In a large, heavy pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Add onion to pan and stir, then add potatoes and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add flour and stir to coat. Gradually stir in broth and vermouth, then bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Return chicken to pan, and let mixture return to a boil.
Cover pan, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until chicken and vegetables are tender, turning and stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Stir in thyme. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Divide chicken and vegetables among four plates, and serve.
3. Guacamole Chicken Burgers
A hearty burger is hard to beat when you’re looking for a delicious meal that will keep you full. Unfortunately, the nutritional profile leaves a little bit to be desired. Take a typical bacon cheeseburger from Red Robin. This gut-buster weighs in at 994 calories and 64 grams of fat, and remember, that’s just the sandwich.
Choosing chicken over beef is an easy way to make the meal more reasonable. It can also be just as delicious if you use the right recipe. We like these guacamole-topped sandwiches from Yummy Healthy Easy. Adding some seasonings and a bit of cheddar cheese to the meat means you’ll end up with flavorful patties. A little bit of creamy guacamole on top is just as tasty as any special sauce, plus you’ll get a good dose of healthy fat.
- 1 pound lean ground chicken
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- ⅓ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Juice of ½ a lime, plus ¾ teaspoon juice
- ½ cup shredded white cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more
- ¼ teaspoon pepper, plus more
- 2 medium avocados, mashed with a fork
- 1 tomato, diced
- Seasoned salt
- Hamburger buns
Directions: In a medium bowl, gently mix chicken, green onions, cilantro, garlic, juice from half of a lime, cheddar, cumin, paprika, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Once combined, divide evenly into four burger patties.
In a small bowl, mix avocados, tomato, seasoned salt, ¾ teaspoon lime juice, and a pinch of pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
On an outdoor grill or a hot skillet with a slick of oil, cook burgers until just cooked through. Serve patties on buns and top with guacamole.
4. Apple-Spinach Chicken
A standard boneless, skinless chicken breast can turn into a completely delectable meal if you treat it right. Health’s simple recipe tops the sautéed protein with a sweet and savory sauce made from sliced apples, spicy mustard, garlic, and a splash of cider. Adding a few handfuls of spinach to the apple mixture is an easy way to pack even more nutrients into the meal. Serve this dish with a side of smashed, skin-on potatoes to soak up all of the flavorful sauce.
- 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- ½ cup apple cider
- 1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored, and sliced
- 6 cups fresh baby spinach or chopped Swiss chard
Directions: Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add to skillet. Cook chicken until well browned, about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove to a plate, and keep warm.
Add next four ingredients to pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Return chicken and accumulated juices to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and chicken is fully cooked, about 3 minutes.
Add spinach to pan, and toss until just wilted, about 1 minute. Serve.
5. Oven-Fried Chicken
Sometimes, only the crispy coating of fried chicken will do. That doesn’t mean you have to throw your healthy-eating plans out the window, though. This Oven-Fried Chicken from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food tastes just as good as what you’ll find in a restaurant, but it won’t derail your diet.
Start by removing the chicken skin using a paper towel, marinate the meat in some buttermilk and garlic, then coat with whole-wheat breadcrumbs. Send the chicken to the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, and this dish is ready to go. We like to serve it with some coleslaw and roasted sweet potatoes to complete the meal.
- 1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces, wings reserved for another use
- ¼ cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 6 slices whole-wheat bread
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Directions: Using paper towels to help you grip, remove skin from the chicken, and discard. Toss chicken pieces with buttermilk, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or in refrigerator overnight.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a food processor, pulse bread until coarse crumbs form. Transfer crumbs to a rimmed baking sheet, and toss with oil. Bake crumbs until golden, 8 to 12 minutes, tossing twice during cooking process. Transfer to a large bowl. Set a wire rack over the same baking sheet.
Working one piece at a time, remove chicken from buttermilk, allowing excess to drip off, and coat in breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere. Transfer to prepared rack. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces. Bake, without turning, until fully cooked, 30 to 40 minutes. If browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil. Serve.