J – Why do most of the salads we get in really good restaurants taste so good?
Note: I say “most” because I’ve had poorly done salads at all levels. However, for the most part, salads you get in better restaurants are made only after lots of practice. They are NOT thrown together … even when the salad prep person is moving really quickly. Of course, the executive chef has had a hand in choice and purchasing of the ingredients. But, that’s only the beginning.
The real trick is finding a balance among the cut/torn sizes of each ingredient, the sequence of assembly and, above all, the application of the dressing.
Here are some guidelines:
- Gather all your ingredients, bowls, plates and dressing(s) before starting.
- Lay ingredients out on a cutting board. Think about how they might pair/enhance each other, and at what size.
- Wash EVERYTHING. Especially, your hands.
- Dry EVERYTHING. Nothing ruins a salad like excess (any) water. A good salad spinner is a very worthwhile investment.
- Peel and cut/tear all ingredients, leaving the leafy greens until last.
- When cutting ingredients, try to achieve an even size. Crunchier things might want to be a bit smaller. DO NOT just throw cut ingredients directly into the salad bowl.
- Now, make the dressing. Chop herbs and zesty things like shallots finely, first. Then, mix in sweet and/or acidic ingredients in a small bowl or larger measuring cup, along with the herbs, etc. Then, if there is oil, add it slowly while whisking to emulsify the oil with all other ingredients.
- Taste the dressing with a single leaf of lettuce, not with a spoon. That is how it will be eaten.
- Place about half of the dressing you think you need on the bottom of a large salad-serving bowl. You can always add more later … but, you can never take any back.
- Now, add ingredients. Add the crunchier ones first, except croutons, if you are using them. Nothing like a soggy crouton to ruin a bite of salad.
- Add the leafy greens, grated cheese (if any) and croutons on top.
- If you want a more “composed” look to your salad, leave out those ingredients until you plate the salads, individually.
- Now, “toss” the salad using your hands. Yes, that’s right. You washed them. Tossing will mix dressing to all ingredients equally.
- If you think you need more dressing, taste first. If needed, pour a tablespoon or so down the side of the bowl and toss again.
- When everything is right, plate and serve immediately.