Here’s how my tagine chicken thighs look after a couple of hours of braising in a slow oven. That gorgeous red baking dish is the bottom of my tagine. The top of the tagine, which is shaped like a funnel, fits tightly over the baking dish so there’s virtually no evaporation.
And yes, you really are seeing skin on those thighs. The skin protects the meat while the thighs self baste and the vegetables soften. The result is incredibly tender succulent chicken. Granted, the taste is better if the chicken is a pastured, slow grow bird, but the technique works wonders on industrial birds. The tagine method makes everything just a little more delicious.
Now does the dish look healthy to your eye? If your answer is yes, you would be wrong as per the recently published FDA proposal on labeling food products healthy. And if you’re like me, you are scratching your head and muttering to yourself, what’s missing?
The bright side to the new rules is food counts. The FDA proposal for healthy is aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans so now both the guidelines and the proposed update suggest healthy starts with food.
Using the Facts Label format, here’s how the list of ingredients reads by weight in descending order: potato, chicken thighs with skin & bone, green beans, carrots, tomato sauce (industrially processed and clean labeled), dry vermouth, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt.
My tagine chicken is freshly prepared from what I like to call “real food” so it meets even exceeds the goal.
More vegetables than chicken on the plate ensures nutrient density with a varied distribution of both plant and animal based nutrients. Check the Facts Label and you’ll see the serving is an excellent source of both Fiber and Potassium. In addition, thanks to the chicken thigh, the serving provides 24 grams Protein.
Most folks would say the combination of real food and nutrient density is the basis of a healthy pattern. And I would agree. However if I were running the numbers for a website or cookbook selling one of the products listed in the ingredient list, I would be forced to recommend reformulation. Both saturated fat and sodium exceed the strict limits as per the FDA proposal.
VIEW FROM MY KITCHEN
When I run numbers for clients, I use the rules and guidelines as an instruction manual for compliance. When I cook in my kitchen, I use those same rules and guidelines as a framework.
For example, vegetable rich dishes put lots of potassium on the plate. Just check the sodium and potassium values on the Facts Label for my tagine chicken. Lots more potassium than sodium because it’s a vegetable rich dish. I salted to my taste but maintained a good potassium / sodium ratio.
I kept the skin on the chicken thigh. Now check the total fat and saturated fat values and note the difference – 25 grams. Unsaturated fats aren’t required on the standard Facts Label but those 25 grams represent the approximate grams of unsaturated or “healthy” fats.
So what’s missing? The flexibility to make a discretionary culinary judgment call depending on what else is on the plate.