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Recipe #350: Coconut Chicken

Posted Apr 03 2013 6:54pm

Coconut chicken has to be one of my absolute, all-time faves. Heck, coconut makes almost anything taste good. :) I love cooking and baking with it in all forms. It tastes great in seafood dishes (particularly fish and shrimp dishes), snacks, and all sorts of desserts and beverages, etc. Yeah, I'm loco for coco. ;)

This recipe uses coconut flakes, coconut milk, and coconut oil, so, it's got lots of coconut flavor. :) When it comes to creating delectable crusts for meat and seafood dishes, coconut flakes make a great substitute for bread crumbs, not to mention the fact that they've got a much greater nutritional value as well. Plus, in this particular recipe, the golden brown, crunchy coconut crust is not only tasty and nutritious but also has a practical culinary purpose as well -- it helps seal in moisture to keep the chicken tender and juicy.

This recipe is a little bit more unusual and exciting than your average coconut chicken recipe, because, even though it's uncomplicated and easy to make, it's got one unique thing going for it that the others don't, namely, my (no-longer-so-)secret ingredient, garam masala, which makes it a lot more flavorful and also gives it an extra kick.

Honestly, I don't know why I didn't create a chicken recipe like this sooner. :) I did, however, create a coconut shrimp recipe about a year ago entitled Indian-Style Coconut-Ginger Shrimp. That recipe and this one will both be included in the  The Athlete's Cookbook , by Brett Stewart and myself, which will contain over 100 quick and easy healthy gourmet recipes to fuel the body for peak athletic performance and rapid recovery. There will be all sorts of fun and exciting entrées, appetizers, side dishes, snacks, desserts, and beverages in this book. Our book's currently available for preorder , and will be released on August 13, 2013.


Despite the bad rap that coconut oil's gotten over the years, it's actually quite good for you when consumed in moderate amounts. Most athletes have already heard about its myriad benefits out the wazoo, but I'll briefly mention some of them here, just in case you're not already acquainted with them.

"But wait, coconut oil is a saturated fat, so doesn't that automatically mean that it's bad for you?" Well, in a word, no. Let me explain: Believe it or not, coconut oil is actually one of the few healthy saturated fats that actually helps you to burn, well, fat. :) Not only that, it also provides an immediately usable, sustainable source of energy, which makes it the perfect choice for athletes. When consumed in moderation, it creates energy within the body, as opposed to most (animal-based) saturated fats, which have minimal health benefits and just end up sticking to your rear. ;)

So how can the saturated fat in coconut oil be such an effective fat-burning mechanism? The answer lies in its biochemical composition, or more specifically, its atomic structure: coconut oil contains lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT), which, as its name suggests, is a medium-sized chain of triglycerides. :) Unlike the long-chain triglycerides found in other types of fats, medium-chain triglycerides have a shorter chain of carbon atoms, and therefore can be more rapidly broken down (i.e., burned off) by the body and converted into energy. Since the body cannot readily store MCTs, it must burn them, thus resulting in an increase in fat oxidation (i.e., fat burning) and energy expenditure. This is how a moderate intake of coconut oil can lead to body fat loss.

Thus ends the scientific segment of this recipe post. Now onto the yummy part. :)


Coconut Chicken

Ingredients:
8 oz. (2 4 oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 c. unsweetened, shredded (or grated) coconut flakes
1 Tbsp. garam masala (see below for recipe)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. coconut milk
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, finely minced and densely packed (for garnish)

Garam Masala Ingredients: (Yield: 1 Tbsp.)
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
3/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/16 tsp. (pinch) ground clove
3/16 tsp. finely crushed bay leaves
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Directions: About a half hour before cooking time, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let rest until it's reached room temperature. Thoroughly combine garam masala ingredients, (1 tsp.) ground coriander, garlic powder, and salt in wide but shallow bowl. Then add the coconut flakes and mix well. Set aside. Pour coconut milk into a wide but shallow bowl. Place a large (12-13") saute pan over high heat for about 60 seconds. Then reduce heat to medium-low and add coconut oil. Next, quickly dip each fillet, one at a time, into the bowl of coconut milk, shake to remove excess, then dip into coconut flake mixture, and then place into the pan. Chicken should sizzle when it hits the pan; if not, the pan isn't hot enough. Cook 4-5 minutes, or until the juices run clear when pierced with a fork. Garnish each portion with cilantro. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: Remember that the meat will continue to cook while it's resting on the plate (the temperature will rise by a few degrees), so be sure to cook the chicken just until the pink disappears and it's no longer fleshy. Otherwise, you risk overcooking it, and nothing's worse than dry, tough chicken. ;)

Adaptation: To make this recipe Paleo, simply omit the salt.
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