Decades before Wolfgang Puck launched a culinary empire, he was a savvy young chef from Austria, where food is cuisine and using seasonal and foraged ingredients, even fresh game, is ingrained in the national diet. To him, good food has always been healthy food.
After stints at French all-stars like Maxim's in Paris, Puck emigrated to the U.S. and soon landed at L.A.'s famed Ma Maison. His cooking attracted the Hollywood elite, and the innovative young chef became pivotal in the rise of fresh, light, locally sourced California cuisine. In 1982, Puck opened Spago, his flagship restaurant in a group that would sweep across the U.S and fold in other businesses, from high-class catering to TV programs. That first Spago, a civilized fine-dining venue in West Hollywood serving farm-to-table haute cuisine shot to restaurant fame. At a time when very few restaurants were serving thin, charred-crust pizzas, for instance, he was serving them with ritzy toppings like smoked salmon and caviar.
From the beginning, Spago has offered waistline-friendly chicken breasts, which continue to be favorites. Puck recommends roasting them – avoiding a lot of extra oil while still keeping them moist. Cut the breasts in half to ensure they cook "evenly and quickly, yielding white meat that is as juicy as dark meat," he says.
Below are two of Puck's easy recipes for beautiful, company-worthy chicken breasts. Chicken with garlic and parsley, on the Spago menu since it opened, is adapted from Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy. Each recipe includes tips for making the dish lighter and healthier.
1. Wolfgang Puck's Chicken with Garlic and Parsley
Healthy tips: You could make this with skinless breasts, which "limits the fat in the dish and cuts the calorie count in half," Puck says. Although this recipe calls for grilling, he says roasting would work, too. He recommends serving this with a whole-grain side, or go with baby vegetables sautéed in olive oil then finished in a little water to soften them.
4 organic, cage-free chicken breast halves, boneless, skin-on
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1⁄4 cup Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground white pepper
2 tbsp (1 oz) unsalted butter
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1. Preheat a grill to moderately hot.
2. In a small saucepan, blanch the garlic cloves in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and slice the garlic thinly. Toss garlic in a small bowl
with the parsley and a little salt and pepper.
3. Carefully stuff a little garlic-parsley mixture under breast skin (2 tsp per breast). Transfer chicken to a plate, cover with plastic wrap,
and chill until ready to use.
4. Grill chicken 8 to 10 minutes per side, just until cooked through. Do not overcook.
5. Heat butter in a sauté pan and gently sauté remaining garlic mixture. Add lemon juice and chopped parsley, and season to taste with salt
and pepper. Place each serving on a heated plate, and top with the sautéed garlic and parsley.
2. Wolfgang Puck's Chicken with Chardonnay and Fresh Herbs
Healthy tips: If using skinless breasts, it will be difficult to include goat cheese. If you eliminate the goat cheese, you'll have a lighter (but less interesting) dish. You could further lighten it by replacing the cream with half-and-half.
4 organic, cage-free chicken breasts, halved (boneless, skin on)
4 oz fresh goat cheese
1 tbsp fresh tarragon (chopped)
1 tbsp fresh Italian parsley (chopped)
1 tbsp fresh chervil (chopped)
Ground white pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup California chardonnay
1 cup chicken stock
1⁄2 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1. Preheat oven to 450°F, or preheat a grill until hot.
2. In a bowl, mix goat cheese, half the herbs, and white pepper to taste.
3. Loosen skin of chicken breasts. Divide cheese mixture; place some under skin of each breast, patting gently to distribute evenly.
4. Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with olive oil. Roast in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or cook on hot grill for 10 to 12 minutes per side – just until chicken is cooked through.
5. Combine diced shallot and chardonnay in saucepan; bring to a boil and reduce to a glaze, about 1/4 cup. Add the stock and reduce by half.
6. Add the cream (or half-and-half); continue to reduce until sauce lightly coats back of a spoon. Whisk in butter in small pieces, making sure each piece is incorporated before adding the next. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Strain into clean saucepan, and add remaining chopped herbs. Spoon a thick stripe of the delicious wine sauce across the plate. Slice each chicken breast on the bias into 5 pieces, and place on top of sauce. Serve immediately with a green salad.