Chicken: BANTAMWEIGHTS : Traditional recipes can be reworked to eliminate much of the fat, the current dietary undesirable

Times Food Editor

I heard friends brag about how they “lost seven pounds in one week” on a special diet. But one seldom hears how they put it all back on the instant they went off the miracle cure.

Diets come and diets go. One recommends loading up on carbohydrates. Another suggests that everything will be fine if you just eliminate all fats. Still another offers total success if you simply live on some sort of master-mix drinkable meals. And each is billed as absolutely the best and easiest way to get your weight exactly where you want it with the least trouble.

Hogwash!

A restrictive diet, unless undertaken at doctors’ orders, can be such a pain to follow that it becomes almost impossible to stick with it. Besides, a person in normal good health who simply wants to keep his or her weight under control is really better off following a well-balanced eating pattern that includes the basic four food groups and getting plenty of exercise.

The lack of flavor in many restrictive diets is the bugaboo for most dieters. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about a meal devoted to bland and textureless foods. Many of these diets do indeed make the pounds melt away like magic in a hurry. But one really can’t stay on them forever. Instead, it’s better to adjust not just your eating habits but your cooking techniques. And that’s not as difficult as it may seem.

Fats seem to be the current undesirables in our diets, with good reason. Most of us would definitely be better off if we reduced the amount of fat in our meals; certainly our heart health would benefit from such a move. But fats happen to add a great deal of flavor to our foods, so eliminating them altogether puts us back into the bland food category. And it also means the total elimination of some of our favorite dishes based on frying or baking.

That’s where changing some cooking techniques can help. Just a few standard changes in food preparation can make a big difference in the amount of fat one eats. And it can also mean a gradual loss of excess weight. But the loss of a pound or two a week can add up more quickly than one realizes. And by changing your cooking and eating habits, it’s quite possible to keep off the pounds you drop this way with no trouble.

To illustrate how this can work, we redesigned the cooking methods and eliminated a lot of the fat in simple, old-fashioned chicken dishes that are as familiar to most of us as a peanut-butter sandwich.

Consider chicken cacciatore, for instance. Ordinarily one would saute chicken parts in a fair amount of olive oil until the skin was nicely browned and crisp before adding the rest of the flavorful ingredients. There’s an easy way to reduce the fat in this classic recipe, however, without harming the traditional flavor.

By skinning the chicken parts (much of the fat in a chicken is in the skin) you automatically eliminate unnecessary calories and excess fat. Next, instead of sauteing the chicken in three or four tablespoons of olive oil as recommended in many of the older recipes, simply brush the skinless chicken with a modicum of oil to help retain the moisture, and brown the chicken under the broiler. Or, if having the chicken wear a golden glow isn’t that important to you, the meat may be steamed. In either case, there will be very little discernable flavor reduction when one tastes the completed dish.

Accent on Content

Please note that the accent in preparing any reduced-fat dish is on lowering the fat content, not eliminating it altogether. This type of change in preparing foods can be all but undetectable by the diner, yet over a period of time it will slowly help one painlessly develop new ways of more healthful eating.

The following recipes are based on well-loved chicken favorites that are familiar to most. We have, however, adapted them to newer cooking methods that leave all the flavor in while reducing the fat and calorie content. The new versions are not meant to be low-calorie foods, so for that reason we are not printing the calorie content. But they are greatly reduced in both fat and calorie content from the originals. And by making similar changes in the way you prepare other foods--whether meat, fish or vegetables--you’ll gradually reduce the total fat content of your diet.

BUFFET CHICKEN CACCIATORE

2 small chickens, quartered and skinned

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 green pepper, cut in thin strips

1 (1-pound, 12-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine or water

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, optional

1/2 cup sliced stuffed olives, optional

Hot cooked fettuccine

Chopped parsley

Place chicken parts in broiler pan. Brush chicken lightly with 1 tablespoon oil and broil about 5 inches from heat source, turning once, until chicken is lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet and saute onions and garlic until tender but not browned. Add green pepper, tomatoes and their liquid, bay leaves, rosemary, oregano and wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and add chicken parts, spooning sauce over all. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 to 50 minutes or until chicken is tender. Add more liquid during cooking period if necessary.

Add mushrooms and olives during last 10 minutes of cooking period. Serve with hot fettuccine and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 8 servings.

CHICKEN VERONIQUE

4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned

Salt

White pepper

2 tablespoons oil or margarine

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup sour cream or low-fat yogurt

2 cups seedless grapes

Season chicken breasts lightly with salt and white pepper. Brown quickly in hot oil in skillet. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside. Add onion and mushrooms to skillet and saute until onion is tender but not browned. Add wine and chicken broth and cook over medium-high heat until sauce is reduced by about 1/4 and slightly thickened.

Return chicken to pan, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken to serving platter and add sour cream to sauce remaining in pan. Heat but do not let boil. Stir in grapes and let heat about 1 minute. Pour sauce and grapes over chicken. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

CHICKEN BREAST PAPRIKASH

3 whole chicken breasts, split and skinned

1 cup thinly sliced onion

1 (8-ounce) can stewed tomatoes

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 cup vegetable juice cocktail

2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika

3/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Dash ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, optional

Coarsely ground black pepper, optional

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

6 tablespoons minced parsley

Bake chicken breasts, skin side up, at 425 degrees 20 minutes in 13x9-inch baking dish. Remove from oven and surround with onion slices. Combine stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, vegetable juice, paprika, thyme, nutmeg and garlic and mix well. Pour over chicken and sprinkle with pepper to taste.

Return chicken to oven and bake 15 minutes longer. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and basting occasionally, cook until chicken is tender, about 15 minutes longer. To serve, spoon sauce over chicken, top with dollop of yogurt and sprinkle with parsley and, if desired, additional paprika. Makes 6 servings.

POACHED CHICKEN WITH LEMONS AND ORANGES

1 lemon

4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned

4 boneless chicken thighs, skinned

Salt

2 tablespoons oil or margarine

1 cup chicken broth

Juice of 2 oranges

White pepper

1 (7-ounce) bottle club soda

Cut lemon in half and rub cut side over chicken parts, then season chicken lightly with salt. Heat oil in skillet, add chicken and cook about 5 minutes or until golden. Add chicken broth, bring to boil, reduce heat and let chicken parts simmer over low heat about 30 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Remove chicken to serving platter and keep warm.

Add orange juice to skillet and bring liquid to boil. Boil about 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Stir in club soda and heat about 30 seconds longer. Serve chicken in large soup bowls and pour sauce over. Garnish with lemon and orange slices and minced parsley, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

GRILLED MUSTARD CHICKEN

1 cup white wine

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt, pepper

Ground thyme

4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned

4 boneless chicken thighs, skinned

2 tablespoons dry mustard

1 tablespoon honey

Paprika

Combine wine and oil in glass baking dish large enough to hold chicken pieces. Add salt, pepper and thyme to taste. Place chicken parts in marinade, turning to coat well and refrigerate, turning occasionally, at least 1 hour.

Remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade. Broil chicken on both sides in oven or on barbecue grill 25 to 30 minutes until tender and cooked through. Combine dry mustard and honey and brush over hot chicken parts just before serving. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

CHICKEN MARENGO

8 meaty chicken pieces, skinned and boned

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, pepper

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

12 whole small white onions, peeled

12 medium mushroom caps

4 tomatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup dry white wine

Brown chicken parts in oil in large skillet. Season to taste with salt and pepper and Worcestershire. Place chicken in 2 1/2-quart casserole. Add onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and garlic. Pour chicken broth into skillet and heat to boiling, stirring to scrape up all brown bits. Pour over chicken in casserole.

Bake mixture at 350 degrees 1 hour or until chicken is tender, basting occasionally, if necessary. Remove chicken to platter and keep warm. Pour cooking liquid and remaining vegetables into skillet. Add wine and cook over high heat until sauce is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Serve over chicken. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

RAM’S CHICKEN CURRY

1/2 large onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons oil or margarine

Dash ground ginger

1/4 cup water

1 medium tomato, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup low-fat yogurt

1 tablespoon paprika

2 chicken breasts, quartered and skinned

Salt

Curry Mix

Saute onion and garlic in skillet in oil. Sprinkle with ginger to taste. Carefully add water and blend mixture well. Add tomato and yogurt and cook mixture down to thick paste, stirring frequently. Add paprika.

Reduce heat and add chicken pieces. Season to taste with salt. Cover and let cook over medium heat until chicken is nearly done, stirring occasionally. Blend in Curry Mix. Cook, uncovered, until chicken is done. Makes 4 servings.

Curry Mix

1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 dried bay leaf, crushed

Combine coriander and cumin seeds with bay leaf in small skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and pulverize in mortar and pestle or in small food processor.

Note: This is somewhat hot curry. If milder version is preferred, add milk to sauce when Curry Mix is added.

Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane