Tag Archives: lunch ideas

How to dress your salad AND make sure it doesn’t wilt

A little “insider” trick that keeps your salad from wilting.

The fact is, a slightly wilted salad isn’t bad for you. But, it looks terrible on the table and it certainly isn’t very appealing either. There’s nothing worse than a soggy salad to ruin a beautiful meal.  When you have guests over, not only do you want your food to be appetizing and tasty, but you also want your guests to be eager and happy to try every dish you serve – including the salad.

It should be no surprise that as a restauranteur for more than twenty years, I had the same goals. I was always on the lookout for tricks and ideas that made our food taste great and look the very best. Some of the “tricks” I picked up from my chefs (they always had the best ideas). Others were simply things that are passed along from one kitchen to another. In business terminology you’d call it “best practices.”

Well, here’s a “best practice” for serving salad to your guests. You’ll dress your salad before your party, and it won’t wilt before they’re ready to eat.

First, plan your meal well. When having guests over for dinner, I very often serve my favorite simple salad. The only exception is if the salad IS the center of the meal. Otherwise, keep it simple so that it doesn’t upstage the main course. Simplicity also helps solve the issue of wilting, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Second, think strategically. The biggest problem is timing: having the salad ready to serve but keeping the greens crisp and not EVER letting them wilt.  There’s nothing worse than making a fresh salad too early so the greens are soggy and wilted by the time your guests are reaching for the salad bowl.

Once you take care of those steps, you’ll want to follow this guideline to make sure your salad tastes as good as it looks. Here’s how to do it in five easy steps.

  1. Remember your “plan.” Keep the salad simple so it won’t fight with the rest of the beautiful meal you’ve prepared. The best simple salad I’ve found is just fresh Butter Lettuce and my champagne vinaigrette. Here’s the recipe and here’s a video that shows how easy it is to make.
  2. I recommend ‘living’ Butter Lettuce. Butter Lettuce has a very delicate flavor and is the perfect vehicle for a great vinaigrette. Living Butter Lettuce is the freshest I’ve ever found, and most people love it. Remove the leaves from the stem (it’s attached to a root ball – which is very interesting and why it stays fresh for an incredibly long time in your refrigerator).
  3. Rinse the leaves gently (Butter Lettuce is delicate) and shake them lightly to get most of the moisture off the leaves. Then lay them in a single layer on paper towels to dry. Once they’re reasonably dry, tear the leaves into the size of pieces that you like.
  4. Pour your champagne vinaigrette in the BOTTOM of your salad bowl and gently lay the lettuce on top of the dressing BUT DO NOT TOSS.
  5. Now comes the strategy. When you’re ready to serve dinner, and your guests are seated, that’s when you toss the salad. Tossing the salad bruises the leaves a bit and makes them wilt faster. This goes for just about any large green, not just Butter Lettuce. So, toss it when you’re ready to serve, but definitely not earlier. That way it won’t be soggy from the dressing either!

Your salad will never be wilted again, it’ll taste good and look great. Need more? Take a look at this week’s video on salads.

Simple Recipe for Champagne Vinaigrette

And so easy to make: Dijon Mustard, sea salt, champagne vinegar, and olive oil.

You know me. I love to turn even the simplest things into a conversation. One easy topic that has a great and colorful history: anything and everything about the culinary arts. In fact, each major culture from all over the planet has their own story about how a certain dish came to be or how a particular recipe started.

Interestingly, there is actually a long and lovely history of salad dressings. Seriously! Approximately 4,000 years ago, Babylonians may have been the first in Western Civilization to mix oil and vinegar for salads. Egyptians picked up the idea and added spices to the mix.

After that, salad dressing became a standard for nobility with chefs from different houses competing for the most extravagant and delicious ones. The kitchens of every royal court from Italy to the English Isles to the Norwegian fjords did everything they could to exceed the previous delight. The competition between the courts was so fierce that in some cases, the very lives of the chefs depended on their ability to do better than the chefs of the other royal houses! They mixed exotic greens with flower petals, fish, herbs of all kinds, nuts, fruits and of course the standards like potatoes, celery, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and anything else that was palatable. In the hundreds of years of competition, I imagine that there were some pretty spectacular failures. But there also must have been some very memorable successes because I think those are the ones or modern versions of those that we enjoy today.

One survivor is this perfect recipe for Champagne Vinaigrette. The recipe was handed down from one chef to another. Nobody really knows who created it, but it is a favorite, and because it’s so simple, it is also portable and quick to whip up at a moment’s notice. All you need is some Dijon mustard, sea salt, champagne vinegar, and olive oil. When mixed together it becomes a perfect champagne vinaigrette that turns a simple salad into a perfect side for any meal. I recommend using just simple butter lettuce (my favorite) but it’s really perfect on any green.  This dressing is so delicious that you need nothing else but a simple green as a vehicle.

Everything is done to taste but it will end up close to the basis for all vinaigrettes –  1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil. There aren’t any real measurements more than this guideline.  Again, mix to suit your palette.

  1. First, drop a dollop of Dijon into a medium mixing bowl. Then add sea salt. Trust me, you will need much more than you think – so start with a couple of really big pinches.
  2. Next, add the champagne vinegar. The vinegar will dissolve the salt.
  3. Whisk to blend, and keep whisking as you slowly drizzle in the olive oil (remember 1 part vinegar, 3 parts olive oil). Just a note on the olive oil, this is one of those times that the flavor of the oil really matters. See my tips on picking a great bottle of olive oil. The Dijon mustard will act as an emulsifier and keep the oil and vinegar blended together.
  4. Very important: taste as you go. Salt is an essential part of the seasoning. You really don’t need anything else, but make sure you taste as you go so that you can add enough salt.
  5. If you have leftovers, it will keep for about 3-4 days in your refrigerator.

Watch my video. You’ll see that this preparation will only take a few minutes from start to finish. Now, go serve a meal suited for a baroness’s table.