The Sunday cooking thread – How to dress a salad.

I’ve decided to alternate the Sunday thread between a variety of topics that interest me. Sunday is for enjoyment, for hobbies, and for lazing around with a cold one. Revisited topics will include weightlifting, whiskey, travel, hotels, cigars, cars, motorbikes, boats, and cooking. Today a crucial topic for the aspiring home cook – how to dress a salad.

A salad can either be an accompaniment to a meal or as the meal itself. Think of a leg of lamb, cooked slowly on a charcoal BBQ for 2 hours, then carved on a wooden cutting board on a bed of mint and olive oil, the ingredients blending with the meat’s juices and then combined with red onion, cherry tomatoes, roasted red pepper and a variety of salad greens. You had better dress this right if you don’t want to turn a great meal into one of mediocrity.

In Italy they eat the salad as the conclusion to the meal, a way of finishing off with something light to refresh the palate. Often an Italian salad is simply that; some rocket or salad greens in a bowl with nothing else. Serving plain rocket is not going to get you many points on the dining scale, but if you dress it correctly you’ll be surprised at the difference. I had guests over for dinner the other night and one of them asked me just how I had dressed the salad. The question reminded me of the importance of knowing such a simple rule.

To dress a salad you need only four simple condiments:

Salt,

Pepper,

Balsamic vinegar,

Extra virgin olive oil.

The secret is to purchase the very best quality of these ingredients that you can afford. Salt and pepper have large variances of quality and thus taste. Do your homework and get good ones. It’s also an excellent idea to invest in some high quality salt and pepper shakers. I recommend Peugeot as they will last you a lifetime. Cheaper sets such as Maxwell Williams will not last more than a couple of years if you’re lucky.

My daily use olive oil for both cooking and salad dressing is Monini Classico.

Balsamic vinegar is harder to select. A truly great balsamic is a taste experience all of its own. Back when I lived in Italy I had the great good fortune to be gifted a small bottle of homemade 50 year old balsamic. The equivalent in a shop will easily sting you for several hundred dollars. I still remember the taste of that vinegar to this day. It was so viscous that it was not really a liquid. On cheese it was simply sublime, and I did not waste it on dressing salads.

For salad use I simply go with the best that I can find in the area. $50 will get you something good and it will last you around a year, a small price to pay for such a difference in taste.

Dressing the salad.

The secret is in the order that you add the ingredients. First add the salt and pepper and toss the salad well so that it is evenly mixed.

Then add a brief scattering of the balsamic. We’re talking only a dozen or so drops here. Do not toss this time.

Now liberally add your olive oil. If you err on the caution side with the balsamic then with the olive oil it is better to add a little too much than too little. Splash around the bastard.

Now toss the entire mixture together. You will need to do this for around half a minute to get the consistency of application that you need. By adding the oil last it binds to the vinegar which means that the salad is evenly coated. This avoids having a salad with most of the dressing sitting at the bottom of the bowl.

My standard salad is red onion and halved cherry tomatoes, (which I salt first to take away the stringency of the onion.) Then some salad greens and dress the lot together. Dressing salads correctly will really help to expand your ability to produce interesting and diverse meals, the only correct use of the world diversity in this day and age.

4 thoughts on “The Sunday cooking thread – How to dress a salad.

  1. didact117

    I would add, with respect to olive oil: buy the best stuff from your part of the world.

    If you are in Greece, buy Greek olive oil.

    If you are in Spain – Spanish.

    In Italy – Italian.

    And in the US of A – Californian.

    And make sure that the bottle containing the olive oil actually shows some care and effort to preserve the stuff. Really GOOD olive oil is kept in very thick bottles that are typically tinted a dark green, because this keeps out the sunlight and stops the saturated fats within from breaking down.

    Also – really excellent olive oil has a very different taste from the regular cheap stuff. In America, if you buy a bottle of bog-standard Bertolli EVOO, it will be about 30-50% cheaper than a bottle of California Olive Ranch EVOO. But the latter will have a notably bitter taste relative to the former – and that is a good indication that you are dealing with a really high quality EVOO.

    The good stuff is worth paying for. It makes a world of difference in terms of taste and quality, and if you use it for salad dressings and marinades instead of outright cooking, it lasts a very long time.

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    1. My part of the world is Holland so that fucks me on that account.

      I have some close friends who have a very old olive grove in Tuscany. Each year I get two 20 liter glass jars of their oil, (tinted dark green of course). It is da bomb.

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  2. Phil B

    Note that olive oil has a “good to use” time of about 18 months so looking at the “Packed on” date will allow you to know when it was harvested and when it will start to lose its flavour and textures.

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  3. I’ve been missing your cooking posts. Good stuff.

    I went on a tour of a winery deep in hill country Texas. The owner was at the sampling bench, handing out samples and extolling the virtues of his wine. Didn’t have the guts to tell him the Shiraz was a little …crunchy. Hard on the guts.

    That said, his balsamic vinegar is outstanding. It had that syrupy consistency and was super rich. The dude also had olive orchards, and his oil was stunning. He wasn’t the only one that realized the climate and soil is similar to Mediterranean climes.

    So in the middle of nowhere Texas, they’re putting out quality oil and vinegar. About three hours south of me.

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