Most of us would love to cut calories and fend off fats in the foods we make at home or order out in restaurants. But we don’t want to compromise on taste. For savvy advice on cooking light and eating right, we turned to the pros. Here’s what ten terrific chefs working in the greater Atlantic City area had to say about ramping up the flavor while cutting out excess fat and calories. On average, these guys spend 60 to 80 hours a week in the kitchen, so they know a thing or two about creating dishes that are both healthy and delicious.
Executive Chef Keith Mitchell of Caesars and Bally’s Atlantic City
My tip is a simple and sensible one. Use vegetable purees to thicken your soups and sauces when cooking at home. This not only cuts calories and fat, it also improves the depth of flavor. Almost any veggie will work. Try squash, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini or mushrooms. Simply steam or soft-boil the vegetables and then toss them in a food processor to turn them into a puree.
Chef Mike Siegel of Village Whiskey
Including smoked tomatoes in dressings and sauces adds unique flavor without adding calories. I recommend smoking tomatoes using the stove top method. Place apple wood chips in a deep pan, torch them to ignite, turn stove on medium directly under the pan. Place beefsteak tomatoes that have been seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper in a perforated pan to fit over the pan with the wood chips. Place a cover over the tomatoes to seal in the smoke. Cook for approximately 30 minutes until tomatoes are tender. Then puree the tomatoes and add them to your favorite dressing or sauce. At Village Whiskey, we add smoked tomatoes to our Thousand Island dressing to kick up the flavor without adding additional calories.
Chef Brandon Iacone of Continental AC:
For healthier eating, start using an app on your smart phone to track your calorie intake. I personally like My Fitness Pal and Lose It! With built-in food databases and easy calorie trackers, these apps are great for letting you know what you should and should not eat when dining out. It’s motivation and smart decision-making, made easy.
Chef Austin Schafer of Amada
If you are watching you sodium intake, try using vinegars as a substitute for salt in dressings, pan sauces, salsas, tomato-based sauces or even to marinate vegetables. You can also reduce vinegar to concentrate the flavor and make a great condiment for cheeses. Try using a medium to high quality Vinegar de Jerez, or Sherry Vinegar. Cider vinegars, balsamic vinegars, and red or white wine vinegars are great substitutes as well. Vinegar tends to have a significantly lower sodium level than kosher or table salt.
Chef Glenn Rolnick of Carmine’s Atlantic City
I use citrus juices and vinegars a lot to add flavors to dishes while keeping down the calories, and of course add a lot of fresh herbs. Instead of butter, I blend light oils to enhance the dish while keeping it healthier and less caloric.
Chef Aedo Rufino of Distrito Cantina
Smoke jalapeños, peel the skin off and take out the seeds. This will leave you with a full-flavored, not-too-spicy pepper. It is a great way to add flavor without calories to guacamole, salads, hoagies, breakfast wraps, chicken salad, tuna salad, quesadillas, you name it.
Executive Chef Aram Mardigian of Wolfgang Puck American Grille
Grilling, roasting, steaming and broiling are all healthy cooking methods. It’s often the accompaniments that create a not-so-healthy meal. A sirloin steak cooked with a little seasoning and grilled is much healthier than the same steak fried in a pan and smothered in sauce. Instead of a fatty sauce, grill some scallions and some hot chilies and serve it with the steak. The same theory applies when eating out. If you see some really attractive proteins like steak, chicken, pork chops or fish, inquire as to how they are prepared. If you see “sautéed” or “pan-fried” you may want to ask the chef to use light oil (don’t worry we chefs can handle that, it’s easy to do). Also, if there is a sauce listed on the menu ask for it to be served on the side so you can determine how much to use.
Executive Chef Tom Biglan of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
At home, try to cook with the exchange system in mind. Substitute low or non-fat dairy products whenever possible. Use purees to thicken stocks and sauces instead of butter or heavy cream. To maintain the nutritional value of the vegetables you cook, do not overcook or cook at high heat. When eating out, my best advice is to avoid highly-processed fast foods, choose fresh seasonal foods and share!
Chef Alain Allegretti of Azure by Allegretti
I like to pick one really amazing dish for the main course, but then I make healthy choices around that dish, like healthy vegetables for appetizers and side dishes and fruit for dessert. Of course, always pay attention to portion control. You have to have fun while eating, so pick a great dish and bon appetite!
Luke Palladino of Luke Palladino at Harrah’s Resort and Luke’s Kitchen & Marketplace at Revel
To amp up the flavor when cooking at home, replace butter with a good-quality extra virgin olive oil. Use it to cook with and also drizzle it on fish, meat and vegetables to finish a dish for a nice fresh flavor. Incorporating fresh garlic, herbs and spices in your home cooking really punches up the flavor. When eating out, your best source of information is your server. He or she should be aware of how menu items are prepared and what is gluten free, lower in fat, etc. But never hesitate to ask for the chef directly. I’ll bet they’ll be thrilled to make you something special and healthy. We are always happy to make people feel good about our food in our restaurants!