The salad leaves used at Gage & Tollner come from local farms and change weekly. Sometimes it’s beautiful radicchio, other times it’s curly; mustard leaves are often in the spotlight. âEach leaf has its own integrity, flavor and composition,â Kim explains, which is why when you prepare a salad, you should taste the leaves as you go. Such careful consideration is essential in finding the right dressing; at Gage & Tollner, it’s an old sherry vinegar with a touch of shallots that gives mixed greens, in Kim’s words, “which I do not know what. “
At Wm. Mulherin’s Sons in Philadelphia, culinary director Jim Burke looks at a kaleidoscopic mix of lettuce. âThere are so many different varieties, and they have so many different characteristics, each of them,â he says. âSo by mixing and matching, you can really organize the kind of flavor and texture profiles you’re looking for. Â»And to dress? Lemon, roasted garlic, olive oil and salt. No pepper. âPepper that I don’t use freely,â he says. âI think a lot of restaurants do this, where you have pre-ground salt and pepper next to each other all the time. But pepper is an extraordinarily strong flavor. It has no place in everything, especially with the delicate leaves.
The variety of textures and flavors in Burke’s Green Salad is a delight, but even more delicious is the freshness of the vegetables as they land on your plate. This is because after washing the greens, it cools them in large containers in the refrigerator, so that they are not stacked on top of each other and can dry effectively. This is perhaps the best tip in Burke’s Green Salads Playbook, a silent but powerful extra step to growing your salads at home: After you’ve washed and dried your greens, place them in the fridge, covered with ‘a tea towel, and keep them cool until just before you are ready to dress them. While the washed lettuce is lying around in the fridge, you can continue making the rest of the dinner. By the time everything is cooked, your salad leaves will be crispier than crispy and fresher than fresh, a pleasant cacophony of textures, timidly smoothed with a film of salt, acid and oil.
The keyword here is smoothed out, not drowned out. One of the most common mistakes home cooks make with salad is over-preparing it, says Andrew Taylor, chef and owner of Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine. Spicy green vegetables, in particular, can be tricky. âIf you overdo it, you’ll end up with a mass of soggy greens,â he says. He also noticed that many home cooks are afraid of the oil and don’t use enough – and worse yet, use too much vinegar, which makes the flavor too harsh, and the acid quickly spoils the green vegetables. . He recommends a classic ratio for dressings: one part vinegar (or citrus juice) to three parts oil. At Eventide, the green salad is dressed in a light nori vinaigrette, echoing the sea with every salty bite. The salad is topped with pickled vegetables, reminiscent of the sweet radishes that accompany Korean fried chicken. I had never eaten a green salad that tasted so much at home.
When it comes to making a great salad, knowing which levers to remove is as important as knowing which ones to pull.