Chef Matt Jennings’s 5 Best Tips for Healthy, Flavorful Cooking
Ever wish you lived with a chef? Seems like mealtime chaos and indecision would just evaporate. Like us, chefs don’t have a lot of time for meal prep at home. Unlike us, they’ve mastered small on fuss, big on flavor cooking.
Matt and Kate Jennings, the husband and wife chef duo behind Townsman in Boston (a F&W Restaurant of the Year in 2016), are particularly great at clever shortcuts when it comes to feeding their family of four. Here, Matt shares some of his favorite tips and tricks and the healthy changes he’s made to stay fueled from morning workouts through hectic dinner service.
1. Master Marinades and Vinaigrettes
Matt Jennings: During the summer we cook at home more than ever and that usually means a lot of different marinades. It’s nice to be able to put ingredients in and let them sit, then take them out later when you’re ready to cook them. We make a lot of infused oils, yogurts and vinaigrettes. They’re great ways to get a quick flavor boost in a short amount of time. Whether you use them to dress greens or for marinating meat or mixing into rice, they’re really versatile.
For better or worse our boys (ages 4 and 7) are on a white food kick. As chef parents it’s like ‘Oh no!’ I assumed mine would be adventurous. One of the compromises we’ve figured out is yogurt marinated chicken thighs. We debone the thighs and pound them out before marinating them. Then we just give them a quick rinse and throw them on the grill. The chicken has just enough flavor for Kate and me but isn’t so crazy that the boys won’t eat them. It tenderizes the legs enough that they think they’re eating chicken breast. It’s one of those dishes at the center of the Venn diagram that we can all enjoy without a fight.
For the marinade we mix yogurt with garlic, shallots, oregano, thyme, lime juice, and paprika.
Another of our favorite marinades, which also doubles as a dressing or sauce, is green goddess. We do a mustardy riff on it made with Dijon mustard, herbs like parsley, tarragon or chervil, sour cream, garlic, egg yolks, citrus and plenty of olive oil. We sometimes add anchovies to it as well.
2. Spice Things Up
Jennings: Spices are a great way to increase flavor without adding fat or a lot of calories. We make our own blends at home. Whenever we teach classes we always encourage people to make them because it’s so easy. Combine 10 or 12 of your favorite ingredients and develop a signature blend. Start with as whole a form of spice as you can find and grind them yourself. Toast some of them, keep some raw and add aromatics like citrus zest or dehydrated garlic and maybe a little sugar and store them in an air tight container. Make no more than you would use in a couple of weeks. It could last a month or more but if you’re adding aromatics with natural oils, the blend diminishes over time.
3. Start the Day Right
Jennings: I eat overnight oats a lot for breakfast. It’s not exciting but it’s awesome for me. So after I get home from work at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. I set them up to hydrate overnight. I top the oats with fruit and seeds and dried fruit in the morning. They get me through to midday. I’ve always been a big breakfast guy so we like to go all out with eggs and pancakes on the weekends. Kate makes the best pancakes ever. I compare all others to hers. The boys know when I make them since they’re never as good as hers.
4. On the Fours
Jennings: I recently started using a timer on my phone and it goes off every 4 hours, so now I eat something at 8:00, 12:00, 4:00 and 8:00. Before that I’d eat breakfast then not eat again until family meal at 4:00 when I’d just gorge because I’d be so hungry then do the same thing at midnight after work. I usually think about protein first for meals now, so at noon it’s often grilled chicken with greens or brassicas. I’ve pressured our chefs to make healthier options for family meal at 4:00 or I just make a small piece of fish and some beans. In the cooler months I’ll do a lot of stews and soups as I find the liquid helps fill me up. 8:00 is something quick since it’s mid-service so that’s often yogurt with fruit. I try to stop eating after 8:00, though occasionally I might eat a bar to keep me going.
5. Get Baked
Jennings: My family loves chicken tonkatsu at Japanese restaurants. The version we make at home is baked, not fried, and no one can tell the difference. Kate and I use a blend of finely ground cornflakes and Triscuits to make the crunchiest crust. Grape-Nuts and Panko work too. We also bake our chicken wings. These have a spicy glaze made with gochujang.
Jennings will release his first cookbook, HomeGrown, in October, which is available for pre-order now.