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A poach approach to healthful eating

Poached Chicken with Three-Pepper Salsa is a flavorful, nearly fat-free recipe that can help break the high-fat habit. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Three-Pepper Salsa is also good as a snack eaten with baked tortilla chips. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

I've developed a new habit in the last several weeks. It's called the high-fat habit. And I'm ready to kick that habit. (I'll start working on it next Monday.)

Boneless and skinless chicken breasts seem to be synonymous with low-fat meals. I had a friend who got ready for her wedding by eating only boneless, skinless chicken breasts and lettuce for six weeks before her big day. Sounds like an awful diet to me, but she did look great.

Because boneless and skinless chicken breasts are so lean, they become dried out and stringy if they are cooked just a little too long. Poaching chicken is a way to enjoy moist, flavorful chicken with little or no fat. Poaching is a technique, really, rather than a recipe. It is a method of moist-heat cooking. It is most often associated with delicately flavored foods that do not require lengthy cooking times to tenderize them, such as eggs, fruit or fish.

I often poach boneless and skinless chicken breasts to prepare them for chicken salad. The meat absorbs much of the flavor of the cooking liquid and delivers chunks of moist chicken for salad.

Boneless and skinless chicken breast halves poach in simmering chicken broth spiked with fresh lime juice and flavored with onion, black peppercorns, bay leaves and cloves. The fragrant spices that lend flavor to the chicken pair well with Three-Pepper Salsa. Roasted sweet peppers and a fiery jalapeno combine with red onion and garlic, all tossed together with some lime juice and olive oil, which contains good-for-your health monounsaturated fat.

Three-Pepper Salsa is also good as a snack eaten with baked tortilla chips. If you make your own pizza, this salsa is a delicious topping.

I thought about adding black beans to the salsa, but at the last minute I opted for a puree of black beans to place the chicken breasts on at serving time. The puree of black beans ties all the flavors together for a delicious meal.

I've discovered there are many people who dislike the taste of cilantro. For this reason, I offer chopped cilantro on the side for diners to sprinkle on their meal if they wish. If you like its distinctive flavor, you can stir chopped cilantro right into the Three-Pepper Salsa. Rice is a nice accompaniment to this dish.

If you're regretting the many trips you made to the holiday buffet and all the cookies you picked from the platter each time you walked by, Poached Chicken with Three Pepper Salsa is a flavorful, nearly fat-free recipe that can help break the high-fat habit and become part of your New Year's healthful eating resolution. No need to wait until Monday.

Bye-bye high-fat holiday food.

Poached Chicken with Three Pepper Salsa

2 green peppers

1 sweet red bell pepper

1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 cup chopped red onion

Juice of 2 limes, divided

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

6 skinless and boneless chicken breast halves, rinsed and trimmed

2 cups chicken broth

Half of an onion

2 dried bay leaves

3 cloves

6 peppercorns

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper for seasoning to taste

Cilantro, for garnish

Preheat broiler. Wash peppers. Remove seeds from all peppers. Cut sweet peppers into quarters. Cut jalapeño in half. Lay all pepper pieces, skin side up, on aluminum-foil lined baking pan. Place on middle rack of oven under preheated broiler. Watch closely until peppers are blistered and charred. It may take up to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Transfer roasted pepper pieces to a glass baking dish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to steam in the dish for 10 minutes. Use fingers to remove skin from pepper pieces.

Finely chop peppers and place in medium bowl. Add garlic, red onion and juice from 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons. Add olive oil and gently toss the mixture. Cover bowl and chill while preparing chicken.

Arrange chicken breast halves in one layer in a large skillet. Pour chicken broth over chicken, making sure there is just enough to cover the breasts. Add more broth if necessary. Add juice of 1 lime, half an onion, bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns. Bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat and cover pan. Broth should simmer, not boil. The liquid should show slight movement, no bubbles breaking on the surface. Simmer breasts for about 15 minutes until cooked through. Internal temperature should be 165 degrees.

Place black beans and balsamic vinegar in blender or food processor. Ladle some of the hot broth from the skillet into the blender. Process until mixture is quite smooth, adding more hot broth as needed.

For each serving, spread some of the black bean puree on plate. Arrange one poached chicken breast on black bean puree. Top with Three-Pepper Salsa. Garnish with cilantro. Makes 6 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Lay dried bay leaves on the cut side of the onion and use whole cloves as pins to attach them. This makes for easy removal of bay leaves and cloves from the hot cooking liquid. I put the peppercorns in a little tea ball before placing in the broth. You could also tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth.

--The remaining poaching broth can be saved in the refrigerator or freezer for making sauce or adding to soup.

--I wouldn't be without my instant-read digital meat thermometer. A thermometer is the best way to determine when meat is thoroughly cooked.

--Any remaining poached chicken breasts can be chopped and added to casseroles, soups or salads.