Sunday, December 13, 2009

Battle: Cooking Light!

So, last Sunday, I decided I’d cook something light, since I’m normally a bit heavy-handed when it comes to oil, butter, and fat, and I was already making a fairly heavy dish with pork on Saturday night. I figured I’d do something with fish…some nice light filets. While at the grocery story some nice catfish filets caught my eye…yes, that will do, I thought. Maybe my spicy sweet potatoes would go nicely…and a spicy pecan topping on the catfish…yes, that would do the trick…it was all coming together nicely.

I sautéed the sweet potatoes in butter, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, and ancho chile powder, with a hit of sea salt. I fried the pecan topping in butter and ancho chile powder. I sautéed the catfish in, you guessed, it butter. It was all incredible tasting, but even I felt a bit nasty after eating it. My wife sat back after the meal and proclaimed that I simply couldn’t cook “light,” that I was simply incapable. Here is the actual conversation, as she captured it in her blog, “Questioning My Intelligence” (the “me” being my wife Susan):

Me: George, you are incapable of cooking light.

George: Yes, I can!

Me: No, you can NOT.

George: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because I never have. Name that movie I’m paraphrasing.

Me: Princess Bride, of course. And that’s my point. You’ve never done it because you’re not capable.

George: I’ve just never tried to cook light. I’ve tried to cook delicious. Besides, beans and rice was my idea.

Me: That’s not cooking. That’s making rice, heating up canned beans, and mixing them together. The recipes you invent are never light. Besides, I’m always the one fixing beans and rice, not you.

George: I made light oatmeal cookies when we lived in Boise.

Me: Yes, I suppose you did. [Note: We left Boise in 2000.] But you are not capable of cooking a light meal.

George: You are trying to use reverse psychology on me. You’re challenging me.

Me: No. I truly believe you are simply incapable of cooking light.

George: I made you a delicious salad a few months back.

Me: It was wilted with bacon fat, had a pound of crumbled bacon on it, and an egg fried in bacon fat. NOT light.

George: You are evil. I’m going to make you eat turkey. Next weekend, you’re eating light. I don’t know how, but I’m going to do it.

Me: No, you won’t.

George: Yes, I will. How many meals have to be light? Just one? Surely just one. One would prove you wrong.

Me: True. But you can’t do it.

George: Yes, I will. But just once, to prove you wrong.

And so the challenge was on. I, of course, was not about to take this sitting down. I would make her eat crow if I had to boil a chicken breast and serve it plain over white rice. But, the key was to make something delicious and light at the same time.

I hit upon the idea of grilling or broiling some chicken breasts, making a mole sauce, and serving the chicken over rice, with slices of fresh avocado and tomatoes on top. The only problem was, I had no real idea how to make a mole sauce. So I grabbed Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World,” and looked up chicken with mole. Turned out he has two recipes, one with a mole sauce made with chocolate and pepitas, and another with just almonds. Hmmm….I wanted to use chocolate to make my sauce rich, yet light (if I could), but the almonds sounded really good, too.

I decided to make a hybrid of the two recipes. It turned out my wife had bought some chicken thighs (boneless, skinless, I thought, so still good for “light”), but I got a couple more packages since the recipe called for a 3-4 pound chicken. I browned the chicken thighs in olive oil, and then sautéed onion, garlic, and cilantro in the left over oil and chicken fat. My wife had suggested removing the skin from the chicken thighs, but in my heart I knew that the skin would add some nice depth of flavor to the sauce. So much for lightness….sigh…my wife smirked knowingly.

After the onions had softened, I put the chicken back in the pot, and added some cinnamon, thyme, tomatoes, and chicken broth to cover. Meanwhile, I toasted a cup of blanched almonds, a chipotle chile, and two ancho chiles in a dry skillet. When those where nice and toasty (the almonds turning a light brown on the sides and chiles were making popping noises), I tossed those in the pot and let it all simmer for about 40 minutes. Once the chicken was nicely tender, I removed it and put the pot on highish heat to reduce the sauce a bit. I tossed in one ounce of unsweetened chocolate and let that melt, and let it reduce a bit more. Once the sauce was nicely thickened, I pulled out my hand mixer and pureed everything, and then tossed the chicken back in the pot. I served it over rice, with a touch of sour cream (light, natch), and it was, dare I say, fantastically good. But not light. Dang. Round one to Susan….I went for full flavor over light, and while I wasn’t too broken up about it since it had turned out so nice, I was still a bit annoyed that I hadn’t proven her wrong…I was capable of cooking light and delicious!

So, today, it was back to square one in the cooking light battle. For tonight, I had a nice lean piece of London Broil and some asparagus, so I decided to try and make a light stir fry. I sliced the beef really thin and trimmed all the fat, and marinated it in black bean garlic sauce, red garlic chile paste, sriracha sauce, teriyaki, and soy sauce. I let that sit for about 45 minutes while I got the rest of the dinner going.

I took two bunches of scallions, minced 5 cloves of garlic, and minced an inch and half piece of ginger (peeled and minced), and sautéed that in two tablespoons of oil (one each of canola and peanut), along with a couple pinches of red pepper flakes. I then took 1 bunch of asparagus (woody stems snapped off, and sliced into 2” pieces) and added it to the wok, and stir fried that until the asparagus was getting tender. I then added the meat mixture, and let that cook for a while.

After about 10 minutes, the meat had released a fair amount of moisture, so I added some pre-cooked linguini noodles to the wok, and added another tablespoon each of the black bean garlic sauce and the red garlic chile paste. I let that all simmer for about 20 minutes until the noodles were nice and hot and had absorbed the meat juices and the added sauce and paste.

To cut to the chase, it turned out quite nice, with the only fat added being the initial two tablespoons of oil (and that was for 1.5 pounds of meat and a bunch of asparagus). I didn’t think it would be enough, but it really was…it didn’t need any more oil at all. The end result was a very nice dish that wasn’t overly oily. I’m not sure I would characterize it as “light,” but it wasn’t fatty and it was very tasty. Susan declared that I was capable of cooking light, so round 2 went to me!


  1. The flavor and feel of the dish were not "light," but it definitely wasn't high-fat. Well done. I've never been so happy to be proved wrong. Love ya, hon.

  2. Susan, You are so lucky to have someone who loves to cook and obviously loves a challenge. Thanks for the enjoyment and cooking ideas....
    Since I don't have a chef in my kitchen, I'll keep following yours. George, Thanks again. May you have many more challenges and smiles.
    NancyK in WI