Comfort Foods That Are Also Healthy, According to a Michelin-Starred Chef
We all want to stay healthy, even when all we're really craving is a bucket full of carbs. Traditionally, comfort food has not always been associated with healthy food, but one French chef is of the school of thought that you can have the best of both worlds: "To me, the term 'comfort food' applies to any dish with a generous focus on a particular ingredient, from pasta and rice to roast meat," says Chef Antoine Westermann. "Comfort food is food that you can make at home using a wholesome, nutritious recipe that makes you feel loved. It should be shared with others, and it must be generous in quantity so you can have a second helping."
Chef Westermann has three Michelin stars which—in culinary terms—is the equivalent of receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar or a Nobel Prize. The French chef ran the kitchen in multiple restaurants across the pond before opening his latest stateside, New York City's widely acclaimed Le Coq Rico. His background in traditional Alsatian cuisine taught him a thing or two about comfort food—particularly the healthy type. Skipping heavy creams and carbs, he instead focuses on lean poultry and hearty vegetables to create a cuisine that is both comforting and insanely good for you. We tapped the Michelin-starred chef to share his favourite healthy comfort recipes with us. If you can't make it to Le Coq Rico in New York, have it come to you, instead. These Award-winning recipes from Chef Westermann are mouth-wateringly delicious and, best of all, they're easy to make at home.
Roast Chicken, Westermann Style
"My ultimate healthy comfort food is roast chicken—easy to prepare at home, perfect for sharing, and it always makes you feel good," Westermann says.
1 chicken, about 4 1/2 lbs.
1 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Put half of the butter, salt, and pepper, inside the chicken. Cut the other half of the butter into chunks and rub them onto the skin of the chicken, and then brush olive oil onto the skin and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Put the chicken in an oven dish, one leg down. Put the dish into the oven, preheated to 205 degrees Celcius, and let it cook for 20 minutes. Then, turn the chicken onto its other leg, and cook for another 20 minutes. Finally, rest the chicken on its traditional base, and let it roast for 30 minutes, sprinkling it regularly with its cooking juices.
Take the chicken out of the oven, and wrap it in aluminum foil. Remove half of the grease from the dish and return it for the last time to the oven, at 180 degrees Celcius, and brown the drippings, without letting them blacken. Add 1/2 cup of water to the browned drippings, scrape the dish to get the bits off the bottom, and leave that in the oven while cutting the chicken. To finish, mix the cooking juice and the drippings, and put the cut chicken in the dish.
Vegetable Baeckeoffe With Turmeric, Ginger, and Poached Eggs
Danielle Adams; ILLUSTRATION: Stephanie DeAngelis
"At Le Coq Rico, I love the Vegetable Baeckeoffe, which is an homage to the way I cook vegetables at my vegetable-focused restaurant Mon Vieil Ami in Paris," Westermann says of one of his favourite dishes.
8 poached eggs
1/2 lb. butternut squash
1/2 lb. fennel bulb
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
8 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Peel the butternut squash, wash the fennel, and cut them each into large pieces. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Dice the shallot and garlic.
In a frying pan with two tablespoons of olive oil, lightly sauté the garlic, onion, and shallots, and add to the baking dish. Add salt. In the same pan, briefly sauté the vegetables and add them to the baking dish with the garlic and onion. Add the remaining salt.
Mix the vegetables, garlic, onions and shallots well. Add the ginger and turmeric and continue to mix until entire mixture is coated in spices. Mix in the chicken stock and lemon juice.
Cover the baking dish, place in the oven, and cook for one hour and thirty minutes. Check the dish frequently to ensure that broth is low in the dish but not evaporated. Do not mix or move the mixture. Remove from the oven when vegetables are tender once pierced with a fork or toothpick. Set aside.
Prepare the poached eggs. Portion the vegetables and broth into bowls, top with pepper and a poached egg, and serve.
Pumpkin Confit With Ginger and Hazelnuts
"When making healthy comfort food at home, the quality of each ingredient is of utmost concern, as with anything we eat," the Chef says. "If it's not quality, leave it."
1 2-lb. pumpkin, peeled
1/4 cup ginger
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
Salt and pepper
Cut the pumpkin into large "fries." Peel the ginger and thinly slice. Peel and chop the onion and garlic.
Pour the olive oil in a cocotte-style casserole dish and sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger for 3 to 4 minutes over low heat. Add the pumpkin and cook all ingredients over medium heat until slightly caramelised. Cover the casserole dish and cook over low heat, without stirring, for one hour.
When the pumpkin is cooked and tender, add the coarsely crushed hazelnuts, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and serve.
Scalloped Potatoes With Tomatoes, Onions, and Baked Lemons
"Healthy comfort food also means utilising ingredients that are in season and raised locally where possible," Westermann says. "Eating locally allows us to take advantage of the terroir inherent to the areas in which we live, and eating seasonally is good for our health; nature knows what we need to eat in winter versus summer, and adhering to seasonal growing patterns provides us with the proper nutrients at the proper time."
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 3/4 lbs. potatoes
3 large tomatoes
8 tbsp. of olive oil
1 sprig of thyme or rosemary, leaves removed
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut them into large slices (1/4 of an inch thick). Cut the tomatoes into large slices (1/4 of an inch thick). Peel and dice the onion. Wash the lemon and slice thinly.
Grease a baking dish with half of the olive oil. Add the vegetables and lemons, alternating between potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and lemon slices. Apply the remaining olive oil on the dish. Add salt and pepper as desired.
Spread the thyme or rosemary leaves throughout the dish, and then insert the whole dish into the oven and let it cook for an hour and 30 minutes, mixing every 15 minutes to ensure that the potatoes are cooked evenly.