Cooking (and almost cussin') with Chef Jet Tila

The one-time Iron Chef contestant puts some salt into a demo on healthier cooking.

Celebrity chef Jet Tila demonstrated the ease of removing calories, fat and salt from popular dishes during a cooking demo at MenuDirections, but not all of his instruction can be revealed here, this being a family blog.

When cooking Thai curry, for instance, the self-taught, high school-educated chef recommended an “OS” timeframe. “I can’t say what that stands for—maybe I can say ‘Oh, crap!’ instead,” said Tila. As he demonstrated on stage, the full flavor of fundamental components like curry paste, carmelized herbs and coconut cream aren’t brought out until the mixture is heated to what may be a panic point for most cooks. Hence the desire to yell, “OS!” in the unabbreviated form.

Dialing up flavor to offset subtracted fat and salt was Tila’s professed mission. He showed how to do it by taking two popular dishes—in addition to the Thai curry, country fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy—and reformulating them into healthier meals.

The key to preparing a healthier Thai curry, according to Tila, is carmelizing the herbs that flavor the dish. He used such components as Thai basil (stems and all, Tila stressed) and sliced kefir lime leaves.

Tila also shared a few tricks. For instance, he had members of the audience swear, raised hand and all, that they would never shake a can of coconut milk before using it for a curry sauce. He explained that coconut oils rise to the top of the can. That “cream” can add more silkiness and flavor, the chef said. So “grandmas in Thailand know you don’t start curry with oil. You start it with the top of the coconut milk,” he explained.

“Cook your curry paste with enough coconut cream to hit the OS stage,” Tila commented as the camera followed his prep work.

To take additional calories out of the dish, Tila used tofu instead of meat. He added peppers for flavor and a shot of vitamin C, and tossed some squash into the sautee pan for added heft.  

Tila explained that his goal with preparation was to remove calories without flavor. The knack, he said, is aiming for yum, the Thai word for the balancing point between hot, sour, sweet and salty.

The result: A preparation that contained 368 fewer calories and 45% less fat.

For the country fried steak, Tila used a four-inch cut of chicken that he’d pounded into a sizeable fillet. He wet the meat in egg substitute before battering it with a mix of corn meal, wheat flour and corn starch.

He sautéed the breast instead of deep-frying it, and would have finished it in an oven if the device hadn’t failed.

To prepare a lighter version of mashed potatoes, Tila used a commercial steamer to cook small cubes of potato for 15 minutes, then riced them. “It makes them light and fluffy without having to put in too much light and fluffy,” he explained.

For flavor, he added a little chicken stock (“I’m not a total calorie Nazi,” Tila remarked) and water.

The result was a platter of chicken fried steak, potatoes and gravy that contained fewer than 700 calories, a drop of 471.

OS.

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