Author: Monda Rosenberg
Whether you have a concern about high blood pressure or not, we all know it’s smart to keep our sodium intake as low as we can. We’re told we should keep our consumptions to no more than 1500 mg a day, but eating one bowl of chicken soup from a popular Canadian coffee shop brings us 910 mg. So making your own can be worthwhile.
In fact, when cooking chicken, there are a zillion ways to boost flavour without reaching for the salt shaker. Here are our top ten tips.
1. CREAMY SOUP SAVVY
Just reaching for the can of condensed cream of chicken soup labeled lowfat or low sodium can save you 200 mg of sodium per cup.
Cut the sodium count further by bulking up the soup with super healthy vegetables. Simmering cut-up fresh veggies in the broth is ideal but you can always throw in a handful or two of frozen green peas or corn. This ups the volume of your soup without touching the sodium count, so a cup now holds much less sodium. Spinach leaves don't need cooking so toss some in before serving - not only for bulk and nutrients but for that elusive garden-fresh taste.
Then again, you can easily make a soup from scratch. There are many enticing chicken soup recipes to consider on this website including a superb recipe for a classic chicken noodle soup.
2. CRISPY CRUNCHY BAKED CHICKEN
Who doesn't like to tuck into a juicy leg of chicken with a shake-‘n’-bake-style coating. Go with a store-bought one and you add 220 mg of sodium to each piece of chicken. Use your own bread crumbs and, while bread has a fair amount of sodium, you can control the extra salt you add. Plain bread crumbs have 123 mg of sodium in 2 tablespoons.
The trick to getting a crispy coating is after placing coated chicken pieces on a baking sheet, give them a spray with cooking oil or use a brush and lightly dab with oil. For a flavour boost - dip the chicken in a mixture of egg and buttermilk or milk whisked with a dab of Dijon before coating.
3. TACO TACTICS
Chicken taco nights are sure-fire winners on the kid scene, but start with a kit and the seasonings blend may be salt laced.
It’s interesting that both a taco shell and a corn tortilla are listed as under 50 mg of sodium, while a whole wheat tortilla of the same size has 167 mg of sodium - so you know which one to choose.
One of the popular chicken taco kits has salt listed as the third ingredient - and when it’s made up following their directions, it has 300 mg in a serving.
Another well-known brand offers both reduced sodium fajita and taco seasoning mix.
Just keep an eye on the labels.
4. CHICKEN FINGER CHECK
Some children would eat chicken nuggets every night if you let them - and not all chicken nuggets are created equal.
One of the most popular chicken nuggets sold in our supermarket’s frozen food sections has 620 mg in 4
pieces. Those sold in a popular fast food restaurant hold 360 mg in 4 pieces - but add another 150 if they have the sweet ’n’ sour sauce.
Also, frozen nuggets are considerably larger than those sold at the fast food place.
If you chose to make your own and use a shake ’n’ bake -style coating mix,the sodium will be about 220 mg.
5. ASIAN ALERT
Fish sauce, soya sauce and hot garlic chili sauce - all pillars of Asian cuisine are sodium-laced. Fish sauce, for example, made from the fermentation of fish with sea salt has 1400 mg of salt in a single tablespoon. Some popular brands of soya ring in at 4176 mg per 1/4 cup and hot-garlic chili sauce at 260 mg per teaspoon.
While I have not found a good stand-in for fish sauce that is shyer on sodium, light soya sauce has about 580 mg per tablespoon - about half that of regular soya sauce.
Instead of hot-garlic chili sauce at 780 mg per tablespoon boost the chicken stir-fry flavor with lots of freshly chopped garlic and chili flakes or chopped hot peppers - which have very little sodium.
6. CURRY CUT BACK
Curry paste is the express route to a flavour bursting chicken curry - but it can also come overflowing with sodium, some weighing in at about 420 mg per tablespoon.
Switch it up with your own mix of ground cumin, curry powder and garam masala and you have little sodium. Most curry powders contain about 0.1 percent sodium - very, very little.
7. BUTTER CHICKEN AND BEYOND
There are many excellent tasting frozen chicken dinners to stock in your freezer such as butter chicken or chicken tikka masala. Before buying any entrée, besides checking the protein and fat content, look at the sodium content on the label - they can vary dramatically.
One brand of frozen General Tso Chicken weighs in heavily at 1970 mg of sodium per serving. Fortunately you have the option of choosing from calorie reduced “healthier” brands which ring in at about a 1/3 of that amount.
If sodium intake is a big concern of yours, spend time on line checking out what is available.
8. SMART SANDWICHES
Chicken sandwiches are near the top of the list of sandwich picks. What better use for leftover cooked chicken or healthier sandwich noshes. But be careful how you spread the bread and what you choose to layer on or you can send the sodium meter soaring.
Add a coating a regular mayonnaise and you add about 100 mg of salt. If you go for an Italian dressing it may have more than double that amount. A couple packaged cheese slices and you add 500 mg. Instead head for slices of tomatoes, spinach leaves or arugula, even roasted red peppers.
9. CHICKEN BROTH AIN’T HARD TO MAKE
When you make your own chicken broth you do not need to add salt. If the stock doesn’t have enough flavour for you - keep reducing until it is tasty.
To make your own broth, save all your chicken bones in a bag in the freezer, then simmer then up with a couple of bay leaves and sliced onions. Simmer at least a couple of hours.
There are lots of broth options out there on the supermarket shelves. One ready to use chicken broth has 950 mg of sodium in a cup while the company’s “Less Sodium” broth has 640 mg of sodium. Look for their latest entry into the market - a no salt added ready-to-use-broth and you’ve slashed that figure to 67 mg
In the bouillon section, a single chicken bouillon cube that yields 2 cups of broth has 2260 mg of sodium. That works out to 1130 mg per cup.
There are lots of brands, both national and private label, of bouillon, condensed and ready-to-use broth on store shelves - so spend time reading labels.
Do consider pulling out the stock pot and remember every time you serve chicken to save those bones in a big freezer bag. Then anytime you are going to be around the kitchen for a few hours you can make stock. Fortunately, it does not need much babysitting.
10. ROAST CHICKEN PREP
It is a common practice to sprinkle the skin of a whole chicken with salt before roasting, but this step isn’t necessary. While peppering with salt does help the skin crisp, the salt isn’t essential to achieving a crispy skin. One trick is to avoid basting for the last half hour of roasting because the basting has the same effect as pouring water over the skin. So just don't mess with the chicken, roast it at 375 F and you’ll be rewarded with golden crispy skin.
Adding some of the popular seasonings mixtures can send the sodium scale sky high. A mere teaspoon of Montreal Steak Spice, that some like to sprinkle on with abandonment, can add 980 mg.
If you prefer buying your roast chicken, do question the deli manager at the supermarket about what they add before skewering them on the rotisserie.
One well known chicken barbecue restaurant offers a quarter dark with skin on and it holds 220 mg. Remove the skin and you lose 40 mg - but add their dipping sauce that has a mere 30 calories and the sodium soars by 700 mg. So enjoy the chicken and take a pass on dipping this time.