by Prof. Steve Holzinger
"By sallat, we understand a particular composition of certain crude and fresh herbs, such as usually are or may be safely eaten with some acetoris juice, oyle, salt, etc., to give them grateful gust and vehicle."
—John Evelyn, "Acetaria"1, the first salad book ever published
Salads are better than ever! I can think of no time in my experience that salads were ever as good as they are today, and everything is pointing towards salads getting better and even more popular because they are so healthy and so well adapted to today's lifestyle. Never mind delicious; we take that for granted. Salads, which in the past were served as a last course are now a first course, or even the main course. Woe to today's restaurant that serves a sad wedge of iceberg and a hard pink slice of tomato, with some bottled orange gunk under the old too familiar guise of a "side salad." Salads don't take a backseat to anything today.
In my refrigerator is a bag of salad leaves, spring salad or mesclun 2. This is beautiful salad, that only the finest hotels and restaurants could get when I was working, in a three pound bag that cost $20. It is still about $7 a pound, but anyone can get it today in a 4 oz bag at the supermarket. It contains a mix of Red Oak Leaf Lettuce, Lolo Rosa, Frisee, Radicchio, Red Chard or Beet Greens, Arugala, and often contains mixed salad herbs like cress, cilantro, dill, chervil, parsley, chives, purple basil or sometimes Thai basil. (Not all of these at once) 3. My favorite is made by Andy Boy, who market such good broccoli and carrots. At Filet Mignon prices for salad, I use these higher priced herbs in salad blends. Blending a salad of greens and herbs is an art. You have colors, flavors, textures and even aromas to work with. I like to work with the softer lettuces like Boston or Butterhead and contrast them with the crunchiness of Cos or leaf lettuces like Romaine hearts. Then I like to add some bitterness from Escarole or Cresses. Sprouts also can add peppery flavors from radish sprouts or Arugala and smokiness from Alfalfa or Mung Bean sprouts. Sprouts also add a visual accent to the tops of salad Then I add some crispy cukes, rich red summer tomatoes and some sweet Vidalia onion. I like to make my own croutons with a little extra virgin olive oil and finely chopped garlic and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. A simple vinaigrette dressing, made with a blend of extra virgin olive oil and vinegars is my favorite, and I will give you my basic recipe again, that you can make your own variations. A feast for the eyes and the mouth, and a great addition to the diet.
The tossed or mixed salad that I just told you about is just one kind of salad, but there is a different kind of salad to fit any meal or culinary need. I will try to give good examples of each kind in the recipe section. I have done the basic salad dressings in a previous eGGsalad, so I will not try to repeat them here, except as the examples call for a new dressing that requires their use.
I left jellied salads out, they are a whole different ball of wax, and will take a whole article by themselves. Some say salads could be classified in more than one way, and any classification is arbitrary at best. I know that a Chef Salad is also a protien salad, but is a chicken salad with grapes on rye bread a salad or a sandwich? Who cares? I think you get the idea.
Salad Greens need to be fresh and crisp in a salad, they are the most common element and perhaps the most important. I don't wash them until I am ready to use them, I just put them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and close the bag to keep a most atmosphere for them. I don't remove the outer wrapper leaves of the lettuce either, I think they help to protect the hearts. I take the greens apart, leaf by leaf, discarding any coarse, bruised or wilted leaves. A sink full of cold water awaits them, and they get a good bath, as I tear each leaf to size. Cutting most salad greens with a knife is not the best way to deal with them as the straight lines a knife makes interferes with the natural beauty of the leaves. Swirling the leaves in their cold water bath helps dislodge any natural soil that clings to them, and the bath crisps the leaves. Any dirt goes to the bottom, and if you think the leaves are buggy, a preliminary bath in tepid salty water is supposed to get them off, but if I see even one bug, every leaf on that head gets individually showered and closely looked at. Imagine, even a cute little ladybug popping up from your salad!
I have a salad spinner that I use to get the excess water off my greens, and I can store the washed mixed salad in a sealed plastic bag for a day or two and have them crispy fresh. Some lettuces, like Iceberg, get brown in a hurry. In the past, commercial salads were treated with a sodium bisulphite antioxidant to inhibit this browning, but this is not healthy. I crush Vitamin C tablets (Ascorbic acid) and dissolve them in water to make an antioxidant bath that stops and even reverses browning. This keeps these kinds of lettuce crisp and fresh looking, and Vitamin C is not harmful. Sprouts are another problem, as they do not keep well, and I don't know what to do but try and use them up. If anyone has any good ideas, I'd sure like to hear via Email.
To me the most important thing about a good salad is freshness, and a balance of flavor texture and color. Blending of various ingredients to create contrast within harmony is the ideal. It is to Arnold Shircliffe and the Edgewater Beach Hotel Salad book, first published in 1929 that I have most often referred when I needed inspiration for salad making. I have reconstructed, with some changes of my own, a number of Shircliffe's recipes that have become favorites of mine. When I have done this, I have clearly identified the source. Think of them not as copies, but as a homage to the Chef. He also wrote a Sandwich book, which is also a treasure. It was republished in paperback by Dover Press, from the 1930 Hotel Monthly edition about 20 years ago. Dover has published or republished a number of culinary gems, among them a number of works on herbs and herbal plants that are of great interest to the good cook.
The Gulfport Salad is a good example of his influence on me. It could quickly be either a shrimp, crab meat, oyster, clam or mussel cocktail, as all these ingredients and dressings were right there in my ice bainmarie. During the summer, I worked the cold table station in my younger days (140 lbs soaking wet) . I had about 100 feet of cold table, which is very large, and my plates sat on the ice, ready for instant pick up. It seemed that no matter how it was priced, Gulfport was the one that was chosen most often, and eaten as a lunch. At dinner, the individuals were what sold. These days hotels use refrigerators, but I had a long ice table. Ice tables are perfect for salads, but you don't see them anymore. You don't see ice tables on buffets as much as you used to, with a hundred or more raviers of different salads prepared.
Almost nothing ever went to waste, once I got my hands on it. I made vinaigrette sauce and mayonnaise in five gallon batches, (based on olive oil used) sometimes almost daily. There is almost no leftover vegetable that you can't put a good vinaigrette or mayonnaise over that won't please someone. I also did a lot of simple bean and pasta salads, like chickpeas or tortellini that got eaten in amazing quantities, as did celery hearts and olives, which you hardly see any more, mostly because they use such boring canned olives.
Raviers are an inch or two high rectangular glass dishes, that hold a cup or two of a salad, and the thrifty cook wastes nothing good, serving it "outside the work" as hors d' oeuvres. It was considered a valid test of a new man to send him into the refrigerator after leftovers to see what he could make, using only a little new materials. I was especially good at this because I had Shircliffe's great dressings. I still believe that a good salad bar with iced raviers is a wonderful way for a restaurant to welcome its guests, when it is appropriate to their style of service. The Time-Life Salads, The Good Cook/Techniques and Recipes is a good standard work on the basics. Salad, By Amy Nathan, with photographs by Kathyrn Kleinman, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, is as good an example of food styling and eye appealing salads as I have seen.
- 1. Acetaria, according to Evelyn, are those vegetables which should never be boiled, as distinguished from olva, vegetables for the pot that should never be eaten raw. This book was published at the close of the 17th century.
- 2. It is a standing joke around the office, that I once called this salad mescaline. This was funny because the editor had once called me Jack Kerouac! I never understood why.
- 3. In 1996 Coosemans Worldwide maintained a guide to specialty produce on where you could see pictures and descriptions of these lettuces and herbs and much more.
Steve's #19 Recipes
- Tomatoes with Sweet Onions and Basil
- Asparagus with Sesame Oil and Shallots
- Spinach and Mushrooms with Warm Bacon Dressing
- Cubanaise: Slices of Avocado, Mango, Grapefruit, Vinaigrette with Tricolor Confetti of Peppers*
- Panama Salad, a Hemisphere of Orange and Grapefruit on a Slice of Pineapple. Citrus Rum Dressing with Berries.
- Gulfport Salad: Fantail Shrimp and Scallops, Crab Meat, Hard Cooked Eggs, Curried Mayonnaise*
- Salad Doctor
* repeated from previous issues
Note: Another salad with a hot dressing was in the July 1996 eGG. It has a Brie dressing, and uses only the center. Ha! Great idea, then I can eat all the rind. Check this out, I love it, as hot dressings for salads are fairly rare. Do you have any? (Charlemagne Salad with Hot Brie Dressing)
© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified July 2007