EATING well

Don't let boring chicken derail your weight-loss diet

By ROCCO DiSPIRITO

For the Associated Press

Skinless chicken breasts have become like cottage cheese — the ubiquitous base upon which so many weight-loss diets are built.

But it still doesn't register well on the old excitement meter. I mean, how many times have you found yourself craving a naked, unseasoned hunk of chicken breast? I'd raise the white flag and order pizza if the road to lasting health looked like an endless parade of plain chicken breasts.

Take the advice of a guy who has gobbled his fair share of chicken: You don't abandon it altogether, but you do need to break up the monotony. Especially when dieting, it is important not to get lazy in your chicken prep. It's time to add some perk to your poultry.

Because a diet that's dull is a diet you won't stick to.

This chicken dish is anything but dull. For starters, I've used chicken thighs. Sure, they aren't as low in fat as breasts, but being skinless and by trimming all visible fat, they become fairly low in fat. The other bonus: Chicken thighs deliver a deeper, richer flavor than breast meat. Leaving the meat on the bone also adds flavor.

Plus, when bone-in, they're perfect for the grill and are hard to overcook since the dark meat remains moist.

Sometimes, unlikely ingredients seem like strange bedfellows, but often they come together seamlessly to create something delicious. That's the case with these chicken thighs paired with fresh figs and rosemary. The combo might seem a little iffy, but trust me, it works and adds delicious fiber and flavor to the dish.

Figs are among the highest fiber fruits you can eat. I grew up loving my grandmother's homegrown figs; she had both a black fig tree and a white one.

When I'd arrive for a visit, she would start to pick them off the tree, gather the recently fallen ones off the ground and make a small basket with the leaves of the fig tree. She would be waiting for me at the end of her driveway. I'll never forget the image of her proudly holding her basket of figs for me.

TIPS

• When grilling the chicken, keep the grill at medium-low heat so the thighs cook through before getting too charred. Also, don't be afraid to go a little heavy on the fresh pepper. When it grills, it forms a delicious crust that pairs well with the sweet figs in the salad.

• Select a free-range chicken, or try to find a chicken that is air chilled, such as Murray's. When chicken is not chilled in ice it retains more flavor.

• When selecting fresh figs, choose any type, such as black mission, brown turkey or green. Just be sure they are ripe. Also try to find figs that never have been refrigerated. The flavor and texture of figs are compromised during heavy refrigeration.

• This recipe makes a great passed appetizer as well. Grill the chicken thighs as directed, cut the chicken off the bone and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Skewer the chicken pieces with the fig quarters on long sprigs of fresh rosemary. To serve, heat the skewers on the grill just to heat through. Top them with a slice of the marinated onions and a piece of arugula.

Rocco DiSpirito, a celebrity chef familiar to TV viewers from shows such as "The Restaurant," "The Biggest Loser" and "Dancing With the Stars," is author of the "Now Eat This!" and "Now Eat This! Diet" cookbooks.

WARM SALAD OF GRILLED CHICKEN THIGHS, FIGS AND SHAVED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO

Start to finish: 30 minutes

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, divided

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided

Salt and ground black pepper

8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, each cut into 2 pieces each (2 to 2 1/2 pounds total)

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil

2 ripe fresh figs, cut lengthwise into quarters

8 cups loosely packed fresh arugula

1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved

In a large bowl, combine half each of the red wine vinegar and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours, turning the chicken occasionally.

Place the onions in a large bowl and add the remaining red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt. Mix and set aside for 15 minutes to 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-low. Grill the chicken for 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned and cooked through, turning halfway through grilling. Transfer the chicken to a plate and sprinkle with basil. Set aside.

Add the figs, arugula and remaining rosemary to the onions and vinegar. Gently toss the salad, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates. Place the chicken thigh halves around the salad, then sprinkle the salads with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 228 calories, 8g fat (3g saturated), 120mg cholesterol, 8g carbohydrates, 31g protein, 2g fiber, 732mg sodium.

Don't let boring chicken derail your weight-loss diet 09/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 9:27pm]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, For the Associated Press.

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