Monday, 10 September 2012
Tarragon, Chervil and Chive Dressing, on a simple composed salad of chicken,salad leaves, vegetables and boiled egg
Salads are one of my favourite things to eat. It has ever been so. They are one thing, however . . . that are very poorly done in most eating establishments here in the UK. I can't speak for the really high class restaurants . . . because I can't really afford to eat in them . . . but the types of places that "Joe Public" the ordinary working bloke can afford to eat in . . . well . . . they just don't do salad well. I am sure there are a few exceptions, but I've just never found them. Most restaurant salads over here consist of a few tired looking boring lettuce leaves, a slice of cucumber, (if you're lucky two), and a few wedges of rather anaemic looking tomato, usually unripened and normally grossly lacking in colour and flavour . . .
It's a shame really because Salad is such an easy thing to do and really doesn't require a lot of time or skill. Salads need never be boring, or tasteless. You can make a delicious salad out of just about anything and it will be fantastic, as long as you keep a few things in mind.
One, use only the freshest ingredients possible. Nobody wants tired, limp lettuce that's been sitting in the bottom of your crisper for yonks . . . we want crisp lettuces, and not just iceberg. Iceberg is nice, but there is such a huge and delicious variety of different lettuces available today . . . and they're not all that expensive either. Break out of your comfort zone and choose something colourful, or even dark green.
I, myself . . . am a great fan of baby Gem lettuces. They have oodles of flavour and scads of personality, and they come in both brilliantly green and ruby colours. . . and don't get me started on rocket (arugula). I just adore it's meaty quality and it's fresh peppery bite. Baby greens . . . tender and flavourful, and again quite, quite colourful.
But your salad vegetables need never be limited to just lettuce, cucumber, radishes and tomatoes . . . there are infinite possibilities out there for salad fixings . . . so rule number Two is . . . let your salad imagination go wild. This salad here today is what I like to call a composed salad . . . some moist leftover (or fresh for that matter if you have it) roasted chicken meat, some tender stem broccoli, cooked until just cirpsy tender . . . likewise some tender baby carrots from our garden . . .
Yellow fleshed,waxy new potatoes, simply boiled and broken open with tines of a fork, so that you have all those craggy edges for your dressing to gild . . . a few summer sweet English peas, a couple of boiled eggs, and a few crisp baby gem lettuce leaves . . . and a well flavoured, deliciously substantial and hearty dressing. Rule number Three . . . any salad is only as good as the dressing provided, and it needn't be from a jar. The whole time I was growing up my mother never, ever served us salads with dressings that came from a jar. She always made her own, from scratch . . . flavourful salad dressings . . .
Salad dressings are so very simple to create . . . and once again . . . the world is your oyster. They can be something as simple as a plain oil and vinegar vinaigrette (2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) and some seasoning . . . or even with that you can add some minced shallots, and or a nice dollop of Dijon mustard . . . paprika, fresh herbs. . . crushed garlic. It's sooooo much fun to experiment with colours, flavours and textures. Food should be fun, don't you think??
My mother always made a lovely salad bowl for us to have with our Sunday dinners, and her dressing always got started in the middle of the afternoon. She always began by dicing some brown onions (peeled) into a bowl and topping them with some vinegar, salt and pepper. She would let that sit and macerate for several hours. I think it helped to take any really annoying sharpness out of the onion, so you were only left with it's sweetness. And it wasn't always white vinegar that she used either. . . apple cider vinegar often made an appearance as well . . . but lemon or lime juices work well too. Rule number Four . . . a touch of acid. Lemon or lime juice, a good red or white balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, a good white or red wine vinegar . . . good sherry vinegar. Use a good vinegar and only fresh lemon or lime juices. (Just remember your proportions, one part acid to two parts oil.)
When she was ready to proceed, twice the amount of oil would be added. It would always just be sunflower or corn oil, because that is all we had back then . . . but, really . . . we are spoilt for choice today. I, more often than not, use a good quality extra virgin olive oil . . . and sometimes a bit of a flavoured oil in addition, such as a walnut, or toasted sesame, depending on what type of salad I am using it for, and the other ingredients. Rule number Five . . . use a good oil, one that can stand up to the headiness of your acid . . . and which works well with the remaining ingredients in your salad.
A really good Sunday salad dressing was when my mother whisked in a bit of mayonnaise and tiny bit of sugar . . . oh, we loved that salad dressing most of all. Rule number Six . . . don't be afraid to add flavour with something like Dijon mustard, (smooth or grainy), a good mayonnaise, etc. These types of additions help to make for a really interesting dressing . . . Herbs also add interesting textures and flavours, as do chopped shallots, onions and even garlic. Fresh is best, but in a pinch you can use dried . . . just remember to let them sit for a while in the dressing to help put the moisture back into them. If you don't like your dressings overly tart . . . don't be afraid to add just a pinch of sugar, honey, or even maple syrup. Just be judicious and taste as you go along.
Rule number Seven . . . season, season . . . season. I like to use a fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, but flaked sea salt is good as well, because it can also provide a bit of nice crunch. I love grinding my own peppercorns fresh . . . the textures and flavoure are unmatched by already ground pepper. Yes . . . I put my hand up . . . I am a salt and pepper snob. But don't be afraid to use a flavoured salt or even pink or green or white peppercorns!
Eight. Be judicious in all things . . . but don't be afraid to experiment with flavours, colours and textures.
Really . . . if you follow these simple rules, there is no reason for your salads and their dressings to ever be boring or insipid. You may even find yourself or your husband looking at salad in a whole new light. I know the Toddster loves my salads . . . and this is a guy who claimed to absolutely abhor "rabbit" food when we first got together!!
*Tarragon, Chervil & Chive Dressing*
Makes 4 servings
A refreshingly herby salad dressing. Equally as delicious on cold meats as it is on vegetable salads, or even composed salads, which include a bit of both. Also very good with apples and pears.
165g good quality mayonnaise, low fat if desired (3/4 cup)
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS fresh lemon juice (plus more to taste)
1 tsp good quality Dijon mustard
1 tsp caster sugar
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 TBS chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 TBS chopped fresh chives
2 TBS chopped fresh chervil leaves (if you can't get the fresh then you may use
freeze dried, but only half the amount)
single cream to thin
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a measuring jug to combine completely, thinning as needed with cream.
You will want a drizzable consistency, but not too thin. You will want it to have some substance. Taste and adjust seasoning as you go along.
We like it a little bit on the sweet side as Todd is not overly fond of things that are too tart. Adjust as per your own taste.