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How to Make the Perfect Salad

August 18, 2013 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

Carlino's-Salad_platter350dpiSalad looks simple on the surface, but a great salad is a complex and sophisticated balancing act. Too little of one flavor profile or too much of another can turn an otherwise great salad into a less than satisfying start to your meal. Conversely, the right grace notes transform lettuce leaves and dressing into a revelation. Salad can be exciting, but only when it’s done right.

The Basics of Great Salad

No matter which specific ingredients a salad contains, it should be a balance of a few key flavors and textures. A single salad doesn’t need to be overloaded with items, but it benefits from variety; aim for at least three or four different textures and flavors in proportions.

Green salads start with great greens. Whether you use iceberg lettuce or choose a more flavorful lettuce like red leaf, romaine or butter lettuce, the greens that make up the foundation of your salad should be fresh. With a few intentional exceptions, such as a wilted spinach salad with bacon or a steamed kale salad, you want greens that still feel as crisp as if they were freshly picked. Combining greens is an excellent way to incorporate variety into your salad, so don’t feel constrained to lettuce alone.

To many people, a great dressing is more important than the salad it graces. The classic Italian dressing blends oil and flavored vinegar with herbs and spices, but creamy dressings are also popular choices. As with the greens, the dressing should have top-quality ingredients. Using high-quality balsamic vinegar, a light olive oil and freshly ground black pepper will produce vastly different results than ordinary cider vinegar and common oil.

Toppings range from carrot slivers to croutons, but salad toppers still follow the logic of complementary flavors. If your salad has slivers of sweet citrus fruit or dried figs, shavings of tangy, salty Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are a delicious match. Crunchy toasted nuts go well with creamy bits of Gorgonzola cheese. Bites of creamy Brie work beautifully with crisp, tart fruits such as pears or apples. Create contrast with your salad toppings to bring out the best in each of them.

Putting It All Together

Greens need washing, but too much handling will bruise them. Chefs get around this dilemma by washing salad greens a short while before serving instead of immediately before preparing the salad. After bathing the greens in ice water, they spin the leaves in a spinner or let them drain in a colander. Once the greens rest long enough to shed most of their moisture, the cook finishes with a quick pat from a clean, dry cloth shortly before serving.

When you dress the salad makes a huge impact on its texture and taste. Dress it too soon or serve it too late and it loses its fresh appeal. Wait until the last minute, and you may not have enough time to mix and toss thoroughly. The best time to dress a salad is a few minutes before it reaches the table. It’s up to you if you prefer to add some toppings before dressing the salad, but save items that could absorb the dressing or melt into them until after this step. Dried fruit, diced meats and nuts can go in early, but keep croutons and crumbly cheese out of the mix for now.

How you dress your salad makes a big difference in its flavor. Dressing by hand – adding a small amount of dressing, then turning the salad thoroughly to coat every leaf – gives the best results, but if you’re pressed for time, you can use tongs or salad forks. It’s always best to underdress the salad at first. You can always add more dressing, but you can’t subtract it once it’s in the bowl. After you portion the salad to individual bowls or plates, arrange additional toppings on each serving for a professional touch.

If you’re stuck for inspiration, try our Italian fruit salad and discover how sweet, tangy, salty and fresh flavors can work together to create a salad much better than the sum of its parts.

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