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For chicken recipes, braised can't be beat

Let's have a quick show of hands among the diet-conscious: Who is craving a plain baked chicken breast right now?

Exactly. No one.

Chicken breasts au naturel don't ring my bells either, so I'm always looking for ways to pair chicken with flavor detonators in order to have a real meal. One of my favorite ways to enjoy chicken is to dispense with the breasts altogether. And since I'm a thigh man, I opt to use chicken thighs instead.

Yes, it's true that the thigh is fattier than the breast — about 8 grams per 4-ounce cooked portion — but the fat brings with it the extra zing and moisture breasts can so often lack.

Plus, the dark meat of the thigh contains the nutritional jackpot of more iron and twice the zinc of white meat. Better yet, you'll be saving more than 400 calories a serving here, compared to a classically prepared chicken dish like coq au vin. Traditional versions of this dish pack 781 calories and 68 grams of fat per serving. Mine? Just 338 calories and 9 grams of fat.

And if you're a novice cook, that extra fat also means that it's harder to screw up a chicken thigh recipe, no matter how you cook them. Unlike with chicken breasts, thighs rarely end up overcooked or dry. To reduce the fat, though, I suggest trimming off any extra bits of fat.

My recipe for braised chicken thighs, which is perfect for a hearty winter meal, combines two techniques: browning over high heat and cooking with a quick, low-heat braise, either in the oven or a slow cooker.

Braising foods is a great way to create tender meaty dishes. Cook this dish at a lower temperature in your slow cooker if you need to be away from the kitchen for the day. Or you can do it in the oven at 275 degrees for 3 to 5 hours. Just be sure you have a tight-fitting cover for your pot so the liquid doesn't evaporate.

The braising liquid uses something that may reside in the back of your liquor cabinet: sweet red vermouth (used mostly for Manhattans). Vermouth is a wine infused with a concoction of herbs. Combined with thyme and two varieties of mustard, the vermouth creates a lusty sauce for the chicken that packs unbelievable flavor.

So when you're craving a meal that's low in fat and calories, but rich with delicious flavor, try this one. Just about any side dish goes with it, be it baked potatoes or yams, brown rice or steamed veggies.


• Need to be away from the kitchen? This dish also can be prepared in a slow cooker. Prepare through the step of adding the vermouth, then transfer mixture to a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker. Top with the browned chicken pieces and add stock and mushrooms. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, or low for 7 to 8 hours. Add mustards, remaining vermouth and thyme, then cover and cook on high for another 30 minutes.