Tips for Leaner Cooking Techniques

Healthier cooking techniques are not complicated or hard to learn. Cutting back on unnecessary calories and fat can take place in many ways. Having good ingredients, of course, is important, but the nutritional value of the best food items can easily be offset by careless cooking habits. Knowing a bit about alternative preparation styles and leaner substitutes can make a significant difference. Here are some useful tips for leaner cooking methods without diminishing quality, texture and taste.

Eating Lighter and Healthier
With a Few Smart Tricks in the Kitchen

Meats, fish, poultry
Excessive use of fats and oils can add unnecessary calories to meat-, fish- and poultry dishes. To cut back, work with Teflon® or other non-stick pots and pans. If you prefer cooking ware made of steel, keep using oils and fats at an absolute minimum. In most cases, the inherent fat of the meat itself will suffice.

When sauteing, add stock instead of fat to prevent burning.

Apply cooking methods that require less fat as often as you can, such as steaming, poaching, roasting, baking or broiling. Avoid frying.

Choose leaner cuts of meat, like tenderloin or top sirloin. USDA “Choice” meats have less fat and marbling than USDA “Prime.”

Buy free-range poultry for better flavor and less fat.

Remove all poultry skin prior to cooking to reduce fat content.

Replace traditional bacon with Canadian or turkey bacon for less fat.

Sauces, gravy
When using cornstarch as a thickener, make a slurry with equal parts of cornstarch and liquid. Cooked and pureed vegetables make better thickeners for sauces. Use arrowroot in the same way for sauces to remain clear.

Reduce stocks until they are dark and flavorful to add body to sauces.

Replace cream with evaporated skim milk, mix in with cornstarch and whisk into a simmering stock.

To make gravy without fat, blend a tablespoon of cornstarch with a cup of broth and shake in a jar. Simmer until thick, adding the rest of the broth.

Stocks, soups, stews
You can make fresh chicken-, fish- or vegetable stock yourself instead of using bouillon cubes or broth in cans.

Sweat vegetables in chicken or vegetable broth, instead of oil or fat.

Replace cream or whole milk with evaporated skim milk when cooking soups.

For mashed potatoes, use homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth instead of cream and butter.

Instead of sour cream to garnish cream soups, try foamed skim milk, as you would on a café latte.

Eggs carry lots of cholesterol, but only in the yolk. For this reason, always use egg yolk sparingly. Keep a ratio of two-thirds egg white to one third of yoke when you make egg dishes, like omelets, scrambles, etc. Egg substitute works just as well and can also be mixed with real eggs.

Spray traditionally deep-fried items with cooking spray, instead of dipping them in oil. Then bake in the oven at 450º until crispy. This will give you the same fried flavor without the large amount of fat.

Use pureed fruit (e.g. prune or apple butter) as a fat substitute in baked goods. You can eliminate up to 75% of the fat you get from butter.

You can make a lower-fat cheesecake with yogurt cheese. Use nonfat plain yogurt. Line a colander with cheesecloth. Set it over a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days. Discard the liquid. Three cups of drained yogurt make about one cup of yogurt cheese.

Salt reduction, flavor enhancement
Utilize fresh ingredients as much as possible. Limit the use of canned and frozen products. Check nutrition facts labels for sodium content, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, sweeteners and coloring. Choose brands with the lowest amount of any of these.

Fresh herbs and spices are preferable to dried ones.

Soups are best when made from scratch. Canned soups may have healthy ingredients, but many brands contain high levels of sodium to extend shelf life. A perfect soup is made with fresh, home-made stock.

Use natural salts, such as gray salt, fleur de sel and alea salt, instead of iodized salt. These salts have essential minerals and less sodium.

Herbs and spices enhance natural flavors. Here are some examples: For red meat, use cumin, soy sauce and bay leaf; for pork, use sage, dry mustard and dried fruits; for fish and chicken, use lemon, basil and thyme; for potatoes, use chives, mint and poppy seeds; for cabbage, use ground caraway seed and onion; for asparagus, use nutmeg, lemon juice and sesame seeds.

These are just a few random ideas you can take advantage of in your quest for leaner cooking techniques. There are endless opportunities. You are invited to submit your own suggestions for smarter and lighter cooking and share them with your fellow-readers at any time.

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