I know that it feels like this particular winter will never end, but the facts that daylily shoots are breaking through the ground, and a few hardy birds sing to welcome the day have to count for something.
Anyway, this all leads to lightening things up a bit in the food department. We’re not quite at the grilled chicken and salad point yet, but there are lots of things that you can do to cut the fat and calories from dishes without sacrificing flavor.
Take chicken stew for example. I have a recipe that calls for a stick of butter, heavy cream and flour for thickening. Let’s re-think this. I’m not going to give specific amounts here because that will depend on how many people you plan to serve. This is more technique than actual recipe.
Film a heavy pot or Dutch oven with olive oil and brown cut up chunks of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add a bit more olive oil. Toss in cut up pieces of onion, carrots, parnips, celery, potatoes and a couple of whole cloves of garlic if you like. Season with salt, pepper and a shake of red pepper flakes (optional). Saute all the veggies together for a few minutes and then return the browned chicken to the pot.
Cover the partially cooked chicken and vegetables with chicken broth. Add some chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme or tarragon) at this point and bring it to a boil. A small amount of dried thyme or tarragon works well, but I’m not a fan of dried rosemary. Fresh rosemary is far superior. Cover and put it in a 350 oven for about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and continue on the top of the stove.
At this point, the meat and vegetables are cooked and you will have lots of liquid in the pan. Remove the meat and veggies and set them aside. Turn the heat to high and boil the liquid until it’s reduced at least by half. This will concentrate the flavors and thicken the sauce. You can add about a teaspoon of butter right at the end for a bit of silkiness, but it’s not necessary.
Return the chicken and vegetables to the reduced sauce; add some frozen peas and heat through. No cream. No flour. Possibly a teaspoon of butter instead of a stick (or none at all!) The reduced liquid is all you need for a flavor packed base for your stew. A squeeze of fresh lemon wouldn’t hurt. Sprinkle with fresh parsley for a touch of brightness. Tip: parsley will stay fresh on the counter for days if you tuck the bunch in a glass of water. Almost like having flowers!
Stew season will be over soon. Let’s enjoy a lightened version while winter is still having a tug-o-war with spring!