12 Healthy Ways to Wake Up Chicken

Tired of your usual chicken routine? These low-cal, low-carb ideas are loaded with creative, satisfying flavor.

February 21, 2013

ChickenChicken breast is the ultimate nutrition and training staple for a good reason: it’s low in fat, high in protein, and its flavor is utterly adaptable.

The fact that it’s quick and easy to cook only adds to the ingredient’s near-universal appeal. Unfortunately, the very qualities that make chicken breast such a diet M.V.P. can also mean it gets a little boring after a while. And let’s face it; with- out any help from the spice cabinet, plain chicken breast can be pretty bland.

Fortunately, you can break the monotony with a little creativity in the kitchen. Try these 12 easy and flavor-packed ideas to add major zest to your chicken breasts with- out piling on excess carbs or calories.

Cut chicken breast tenders into bite-size pieces and stir-fry in a couple teaspoons of butter (or butter substitute). When the chicken is cooked through, sprinkle with hot sauce (such as Tabasco) to taste and toss to coat. To make this dish taste even more like the tavern favorite, serve with celery sticks and a few blue cheese crumbles mixed with fat-free yogurt or mayonnaise.

Ground chicken breast goes from dull to dazzling with a couple of secret weapons. Add a few spoonfuls of jarred Thai curry paste (red or green) and a splash of pungent fish sauce to the ground meat, and form into small, flat patties. Brown on both sides and fold into big butter lettuce leaves for a dish that tastes even better than your favorite take-out.

Simmer a chicken breast in boxed, low-sodium chicken stock until cooked through. Remove the chicken, shred it, and set it aside. Meanwhile, with the stock still over low heat and at a simmer, beat an egg lightly and then whisk it into the soup while stirring to create satisfying strands of tender cooked egg (à la egg drop soup). Return the chicken to the pot, add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve.

Don’t worry; there’s not a single breadcrumb in sight! Make a low-carb crust for chicken by pulsing dried porcini or other wild mushrooms in a blender until they are the texture of breadcrumbs. Dip your chicken in a beaten egg and then coat with the pulverized mushrooms before sautéing. Not only will you get a crisp exterior, the healthy mushrooms will add a ton of savory flavor.

Coat thinly cut strips of chicken with a little beaten egg and finely minced walnuts. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the nuts are toasted and crisp. It’s a decidedly more adult (and healthier) version of everyone’s kiddie favorite: chicken fingers.

Use a meat mallet (or a heavy frying pan) to pound chicken breast into flat, thin slabs. Layer baby spinach, chopped olives, and a little feta cheese before rolling it up like a jelly roll (leave a border around the pounded breast so you can secure the edges with tooth- picks). Brown it in a non-stick skillet for a fast, elegant meal.

In a small bowl, stir together horseradish and low-fat sour cream. Spread over cold left- over chicken and chopped hearty greens like romaine, it’s a salad with a peppery bite. This spread is also a winning accent for lean roast beef.

All food is more fun on a stick! Thread chicken tenders on metal skewers and dust with Middle Eastern inspired spices like cumin and coriander. Char on your grill or under your broiler for an exotic supper in minutes.

Sauté a blend of meaty-tasting wild mushrooms, such as trumpet, cremini, and shiitake, until they are soft and dark brown. Add a splash of water to loosen and release any flavorful brown bits on the bottom of the pan and then swirl in a dab of softened low-fat cream cheese and cubed, cooked chicken breast for a comforting casserole-like treat.

To satisfy your Italian food cravings, layer slices of warm chicken breast with dollops of part-skim ricotta and crushed tomatoes. It’s so tasty you won’t miss the pasta or breadsticks.

Pound out a chicken breast and think it of it as your crust. Top with sugar-free marinara sauce, part-skim mozzarella, oregano, hot pepper flakes, and any pizza toppings you prefer. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is bubbly and brown.

Mix a few tablespoons of low-fat Greek-style yogurt with an equal amount of whole-grain mustard for an almost instant sauce that will enhance your entrée with an irresistible creamy zing. (This also perks up a piece of lean pork loin.)