Spring Chicken

Get out of your recipe rut with more wholesome takes on poultry—these three chicken dinners are all-around winners.


Yields: 4 servings


  • 8 boneless chicken thighs, skin on
  • 4¼ oz. mozzarella
  • 16 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto:

  • 4½ oz. pine nuts
  • 2 oz. basil leaves and stalks
  • 2 Tbs. Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled
  • 8 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

  • 7 oz. spinach leaves
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the pine nuts on a baking tray and roast for a few minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and tip onto a plate to cool.

Peel the skin from the chicken thighs and set aside. Season the thighs lightly with salt and pepper and stretch each one out onto a baking tray.

Stretch out the pieces of skin onto an oven rack, scatter with a little salt and cook just above the chicken thighs in the oven for about 25 minutes— the fat from the skin will drip onto the thigh meat below. The skin will shrink and become golden and crispy, and the chicken thighs should be cooked through in about the same time, but remove one or the other if one is ready before.

Meanwhile, to make the pesto, whizz all the ingredients together in a small food processor or use a pestle and mortar. Season to taste and set aside.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the rack with the skin and set aside. Remove the tray with the chicken thighs and spoon over the pesto, using about 1 Tbs. per thigh. Tear the mozzarella into thumb-sized pieces and lay on top of the pesto. Scatter the tomato halves around the chicken and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown.

To make the salad, toss the spinach with the oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, and divide between four bowls or plates. Lay the chicken onto the spinach with the tomatoes, crumble the chicken crackling over the top and serve.

“An easy way to make this dish healthier is to swap skin-on chicken thighs for skinless thighs. This will decrease fat by about 8g per serving and calories by about 75 per serving.”

—Tina Marinaccio, registered dietitian, Health Dynamics LLC, Morristown


Yields: 4 servings


  • 8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
  • 1 tsp. salt plus more to taste
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice n4 fat garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 Tbs. ghee, butter or coconut oil (optional)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1-2 small green or red chilies, split in half, to taste
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 14 oz. can of plum tomatoes, chopped
  • a few coriander leaves


Put the chicken thighs into a bowl and scatter over 1 tsp. of salt, the chili powder, lemon juice and half the garlic and ginger. Mix thoroughly and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.

Put the chicken thighs skin-side down into a large frying pan over a medium heat. When golden brown turn to the other side and repeat—it will take about 20 minutes to do this. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside while you make the sauce. Add the ghee to the pan (unless there is enough chicken fat) and fry the onion with a little salt until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining garlic, ginger and chilies and fry for a couple of minutes. Stir in the remaining spices and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the butter and tomatoes and fill the can halfway with water and swirl it around. Add this to the pan and cook for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft, stirring frequently. Add the thighs to the pan and continue to cook, covered with a lid, for 45 minutes or until they are cooked through and the meat falls easily from the bones.

Season to taste. Add the coriander and serve right away.

“You can significantly reduce fat and calories in this dish while maintaining a rich flavor by eliminating all butter and ghee. Instead, add . can lite coconut milk to the sauce at the same time as the tomatoes.”

—Tina Marinaccio, registered dietitian, Health Dynamics, Morristown


Yields: 4 servings


  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 7 oz. rocket leaves or watercress
  • 2 Tbs. Parmesan or Grana Padano, in shavings
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

  • 8-inch sprig of rosemary, leaves picked
  • ½ fresh red chili, to taste
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar


Preheat the grill to high.

Prepare the dressing by finely chopping the rosemary, chili and garlic together on a board with some salt and a good twist of pepper. Mix in a bowl with the oil and vinegar. Set aside.

Open out the chicken breasts by cutting them three-quarters of the way through with a sharp knife along one long side. Butterfly them by opening them out like wings and flatten under a piece of cling film with a meat tenderizer or base of a small pan. The chicken should be an even thickness to ensure the same cooking time all over.

Season the chicken breasts and rub a little oil over each one.

Grill the breasts until they are cooked through— this will take about 4 minutes each side if the breasts are . of an inch thick. If you have a meat thermometer, check that the chicken is 176°F inside, or cut into the deepest part with a sharp knife to check that the juices run clear and are not pink. Arrange the rocket leaves and Parmesan shavings on a plate or large wooden chopping board. When the chicken is cooked, slice it into strips and transfer to the serving plate. Drizzle the dressing over and serve immediately.

"Using lean protein like chicken breast and olive oil along with fresh ingredients such as rocket leaves are heart-healthy choices. Rocket leaves, also known as arugula, contain vitamins C, A & K. Vitamin K is particularly important for a healthy heart, bones & skin.”

—Deborah Kispert, registered dietitian, Denville Nutrition Center, Denville

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