How many times we've fixed ourselves a salad to save time? Many indeed. After all how hard can it be? However, we are starting to suspect it shouldn't be that easy, especially after talking to chefs it seems there is a difference between a normal salad and one you eat at a great restaurant. You may ask which difference? What is the secret that differentiates a salad from another?
One thing is important: it's not easy to define a salad. You can salad on the side, you can have salad as your main meal or as an entrée. In Haute Cuisine, a salad accompanies the main meal. Usually it's on the same plate to decorate the dish. You have to make the salad separately using few quality ingredients. Of course the main ingredient is the salad itself in all its varieties, mixed or just the one kind. You tend to pick one kind when you are complementing the taste of the dish, if not better to go with the mixed salad.
An elegant portion should be small, each leaf carefully chosen, making sure you are throwing away the ones that have gone bad. A small leaf is better, if not you have to tear them apart. Never cut them if you want to preserve the fibers and limit oxidation.
You must wash each leaf carefully under the drain and dry them with a towel or kitchen cloth. Don't use a spin dryer, it would ruin your salad! When your leafs are ready set them aside in a bowl starting with the hardest ones. In another bowl start making the vinaigrette. It sounds easy to do, you only need oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and mustard. You must be careful with the quantities. Start by pouring some extra-virgin olive oil (if not oilseed will do), and then add vinegar which should be half of that. Mix the two quickly with a fork for a few minutes. The result is a homogenous mix, dense and opaque. It's an emulsion of small oil drops in a liquid form, in this case vinegar. It tends to separate quickly so better to add in the mustard fast. Mustard helps the taste and "fixes" the mix in a way that won't allow oil and liquid to separate.
How much mustard do you need? For 200 ml of oil and 100 ml of vinegar, you only need a few teaspoons. If you like a stronger taste add more. Mix everything together and add salt and pepper: your vinaigrette is ready. How do you use it? You have to pour it over the salad (the harder leaves) a few minutes before serving. If you do it too early, the color won't be as shiny because of the vinegar. Once you add the vinaigrette, toss your salad and add the softer leaves, toss again. This will preserve the softer leaves. When your salad is ready, it's time to serve it into a dish: use two spoons to take a certain quantity and firmly place it on the plate next to your food.
If you like digging in for details, you might want to consider the kind of salad you are using. If you are going for a refined meal, avoid crunchy ones, it's easy to encounter a certain difficulty picking them up with your fork, which would result in staining yourself or the other guests with the dressing. Better go with a small lettuce and small leaves, even if the latest trend is the mixed leaf salad. It stands for a mix of wild vegetables, chicory, dandelion, nut grass and many others. Small, colorful leaves with a good amount of vinaigrette will make your side dish sparkle. There can be a lot of secrets behind a simple salad.