Healthy Grilling: Grilled Chicken Breast and Watercress Salad

My recipe for Grilled Chicken Breast and Watercress Salad is a very satisfying combination for several reasons.

I love grilling over a live fire: the way the food browns and caramelizes on the outside while taking on a wonderful smoky fragrance and staying moist and juicy on the inside.

Considering the dietary awareness that so many people understandably have these days, many are going to hear the same question, whether spoken aloud to them or quietly whispered by their own consciences: Can't you grill something healthy?

Sure, nothing compares to a big grilled steak, or a burger or hot dog or kabob. But the grill can do far more than just cook hunks of red meat. I've written before in this column about how great it is to grill seafood, poultry and vegetables, for example. And not only that, but you can also grill a salad.

Grilled salad? Now, don't get me wrong.

I'm not talking about putting your leafy greens on the grill. (Though I do know that some chefs like to briefly char halved or quartered heads of romaine, radicchio, or Belgian endive.) What I mean is that grilled proteins, especially chicken and seafood, make wonderful toppings for main-course salads.

Doesn't that sound both healthy and delicious?

Both adjectives apply to my recipe for Grilled Chicken Breast and Watercress Salad.

This Grilled Chicken Breast and Watercress Salad recipe is a very satisfying combination for several reasons: the difference in temperatures between the chilled greens and the hot chicken; the way the watercress's bright, peppery taste and that of its Dijon mustard dressing complement the garlicky grilled chicken; the contrast between the crisp sprigs and the juicy meat; and even the variety of colors. A scattering of quickly sauteed mushrooms only adds to the pleasures even more. And for those who are being especially health-conscious, the chicken's fatty skin can even be discarded before serving, having served its purpose of securing the garlic-parsley seasoning and keeping the chicken moist during cooking. (And for those not as worried about fat, the delicious, crispy skin may well be a revelation to you.)

Yes, this Grilled Chicken Breast and Watercress Salad is an unconventional dish. But I guarantee you that everyone at the table will love the results, and this recipe could well become one your family's summertime favorites.

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Grilled Chicken Breast & Watercress Salad

    Prep Time: 30 minutes

    Cook time: 20 minutes

    Yield: Serves 6

Grilled Chicken Breast & Watercress Salad Ingredients

    For the Mustard Vinaigrette

      1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

      1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

      1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar


      Freshly ground white pepper

      1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    For the Salad

      6 small skin-on boneless chicken breast halves

      15 garlic cloves

      1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves


      Freshly ground black pepper

      3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

      3 bunches watercress

      1/2 pound mushrooms such as chanterelles or fresh shiitakes, trimmed and wiped clean with a damp paper towel

Grilled Chicken Breast & Watercress Salad Recipe Instructions

    First prepare the vinaigrette.

    In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, tarragon, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

    Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary, adding a little more salt, mustard, or vinegar.

    Set aside.

    Preheat an outdoor grill.

    Meanwhile, peel the garlic cloves, put them in a saucepan, and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the water boils, drain well. Cut the garlic cloves lengthwise into very thin slices. Put them in a bowl and toss together with the parsley.

    With your fingertip, carefully make an opening underneath the skin of each chicken breast along one side, taking care not to detach the skin completely. Insert some of the garlic-parsley mixture under the skin of each breast, spreading it evenly. Season the chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper, and then brush them with a little olive oil.

    When the grill is hot, put the chicken breasts, skin side down, on the cooking grid. Cook until the breasts are nicely browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes per side, turning them only once.

    Meanwhile, rinse the watercress thoroughly under cold running water and dry thoroughly. Remove and discard the tough stems and separate the leaves into small sprigs. Put the watercress in a large salad bowl and toss with enough of the vinaigrette to coat it lightly. Set aside.

    Heat a large skillet over high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and saute just until tender and golden brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

    To serve, divide the watercress among 6 serving plates. Arrange the mushrooms around the watercress. With a sharp knife, cut each chicken breast half diagonally into 6 slices and arrange them on top of the watercress. Serve immediately.

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