DiSpirito column: Pep up boring chicken with figs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2011

By Rocco DiSpirito
For the Associated Press
kinless chicken breasts have become the new 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 home-grown 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.
Nothing kills a commitment to healthy eating faster than boredom. If you’re battling meal monotony, you’ve come to the right place. And check out these numbers. My version of this dish has just 228 calories and 8 grams of fat. Traditional versions clock in at 521 calories and 28 grams of fat.Tips:
• When grilling the chicken, keep the grill at medium-low heat so the thighs cook through before get 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-size 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.
Warm Salad of Grilled Chicken and Figs
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4
4 Tbs. red wine vinegar, divided
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary,
Salt and ground black pepper
8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs,
each cut into 2 pieces each
(2 to 21/2 pounds total)
1/2 C. thinly sliced red onion
1 tsp. chopped fresh basil
2 ripe fresh figs, cut lengthwise
into quarters
8 C. loosely packed fresh arugula
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano
cheese, shaved
In a large bowl, combine half each of the 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. Place the chicken thighs on the grill and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned and cooked through, turning the chicken halfway through grilling. Transfer the chicken to a plate and sprinkle with basil. Set aside.
Add the arugula, figs and remaining rosemary to the onions and vinegar. Gently toss the salad, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the salad between 4 serving plates. Place the chicken thigh halves around the salad, then sprinkle the salads with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 228 calories; 8 g fat (3 g saturated); 120 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 2 g fiber; 732 mg sodium.
Rocco DiSpirito is author of the “Now Eat This!” and “Now Eat This! Diet” cookbooks.