Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tricks of the Trade

Eating chicken breast every day gets old real fast—especially if you’re eating it more than once too.  Keeping your go-to staples delicious and appetizing goes a long way towards helping you stick to a stricter intake.  Here are my favorite ways to dress up plain ol’ chicken and rice.

Sweet and sour chicken is one of my all-time favorite Chinese dishes and, surprisingly enough, one of the easiest to replicate.  A nearly identical home-made version of most Chinese dishes can be whipped up with only a few ingredients, most of them are probably sitting in your cupboard already.  Many Asian dishes call for sherry to add some tang—but white vinegar or rice vinegar works just as well.  The official substitution recipe calls for vinegar, sugar and water.  In sweet and sour sauce, the vinegar provides the sour, imparting a nice zing while the sugar counteracts the “vinegar” flavor itself.  Add some ketchup, a tablespoon or so of all-purpose flour to thicken the sauce and bam! sweet and sour chicken.  Adjust the proportions as necessary to suit your taste and serve over rice.

Peanut chicken is another perennial fave.  Soy sauce, vinegar (again), sugar, peanut butter, and crushed red pepper make a pretty close taste-alike.  I usually go with a 2:1 soy sauce to vinegar ratio along with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and roughly 1/8 cup sugar.  Add peppers to taste.  The sugar and peanut butter should thicken this sauce nicely when heat is added, no need for extra flour.  I find this sauce works best when added later in the cooking process after the chicken is pretty much done. 

Beef broccoli is insanely easy to make as well.  Teriyaki (or soy sauce + sugar), vinegar, and sesame seeds and oyster sauce, if you have them, complete this easy dish.  I like to cook the beef in a large wok, add the sauce, and then simply steam the broccoli over the cooked beef at the end by putting a lid on the whole thing for a few minutes.  Another great compliment for rice. 

Fresh ginger and garlic, along with chili sauce or crushed red peppers makes spicy and delicious chicken (or beef) with a slightly more Thai or Indian twist.  If you happen to pick up a can or two of coconut milk next time you’re grocery shopping, you can make it even more authentic.  Start with the “base” of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar.  Add ginger, garlic, and chili sauce or crushed red pepper.  From there, coconut milk, peanut butter, or basil can give the dish some additional interest.

I find that preparing large quantities of food ahead of time makes strict eating much easier.  As contest prep really starts heating up, this becomes more and more important.  There are no excuses for substituting junk when a diet-friendly meal only needs to be assembled and reheated!  Most people never cook enough food to need to worry about storage times, but a 3-or-4-days-in-the-fridge rule-of-thumb is a good idea.  Protein sources almost never last that long at my house, but rice and potatoes should generally be finished within a week.  Bacteria will grow in rice and taters, even if it is slower than meats and fish.  Raw meats should be cooked by the best-before-date on the package; frozen meats should be cooked within 2 days of becoming fully defrosted.


  1. Awesome article!

    1. Thanks for commenting, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)