Wednesday, January 30, 2013


This is about how I make salads these days, but before I begin I'd like to pay tribute to the great pioneers who made this Theory Corner Salad possible. If I saw farther than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants. 

I didn't invent any of the techniques I'm about to reveal to you. No, they were pioneered by legions of nameless obsessive compulsives, yuppies, gays, urban cyclists with their expensive bikes and obscene pants (above), hip housewives, divorcees, and lonely bachelors. 

I'm especially indebted to the obsessive compulsives (above). So much is owed to this under appreciated stratum who succeeded in worrying themselves into culinary greatness.

Okay...the salad...let's get started. For the lettuce leaves: I use a combination of any two types, usually Romaine with either arugula or baby spinach. I cut off only half of the crunchy white spine of the Romaine because I've learned to like it, but maybe you'll feel differently.

I wash the leaves in cold water to clean and freshen them up, then dry them with a salad spinner (cost: as low as 7$). This is a fun gadget to use and it really is useful. You need a way to dry the leaves because vinaigrette won't cling to wet leaves. After drying I put the bowl of leaves in the refrigerator to be be chilled and "woken up." That makes a big difference...who'da thunk? 

The only dressing I use is vinaigrette and for that I mix extra virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar by whisking them with a fork. I don't bother with emulsifying agents like Dijon. I eat the salad right after making it, so the dressing doesn't have time to separate much.

People have strong opinions about which oil and balsamic to use.  I've used only supermarket versions so far. High end supermarket oils I've tried are usually unfiltered (good) but tasteless (bad). They are smooth, however...maybe too smooth; you hardly know they're there. Maybe I'll grow to like them, but for now I prefer something more oily like the mid-priced Trader Joe's California Estate. That's the closest I've come to truly flavorful olive oil, but there's a lot of names I haven't tried.

Internet recommended supermarket oils include Trader Joe's California Estate, Mc Evoy Ranch (not to be confused with ranch dressing) (both recommended by Consumer Reports), and Kirkland's Toscano (Costco) (above).

For balsamic vinegar I use Trader Joe's brand, the kind that comes in the small square bottle with the gold top. I've never used the pricey reduced /artisan type that gourmets rave about, but users of those seldom use them in vinaigrettes. Internet-recommended supermarket brands include Lucini Gran Riservera, Whole Foods 365, and Monari Federzoni, none of which I've tried yet. 

For the non-leafy part of a small side salad I usually use a sliced hard boiled egg, minced or crushed garlic, a couple of beet slices and crumpled blue cheese. Spices: salt and pepper and basil and oregano. In a small salad the vinaigrette is so strong that you won't taste more than that. Warm, freshly cooked, buttered biscuits make a nice accompaniment.

For a manly salad that's substantial enough to be a whole meal I add more to the above: walnuts, mushrooms, shallots, chopped celery, chopped carrots and radishes, sliced olives, dried cranberries and cherry tomatoes. For protein I use whatever I'm in the mood for: blue cheese, imitation crab or ham, or pan fried turkey bacon. I might drizzle a tiny amount of white wine or port over everything if I have it. If you use too many ingredients at the same time they'll cancel each other out, so be careful.

Oh, I forgot to mention the garlic rub. Before putting anything in the salad bowl rub down the bowl interior with half a clove of garlic. Whatever obsessive figured this out was a genius. The odor this imparts to the bowl somehow really does improve the taste.

Mixing the vinaigrette: most people mix 2/3 olive oil to 1/3 balsamic. I prefer half and half. Sometimes I substitute lemon juice for half the balsamic. Anyway, start by mixing the balsamic with a little salt and pepper and (optional) a little finely minced garlic. Whisk with a fork in a bowl while very gradually pouring in the oil. Pour the finished concoction over the salad and toss. The bowl you're tossing in should have high sides so nothing will spill on the floor.

Well, that's it. I'm dying to say that all this goes fairly fast, but it doesn't. A full-blown main meal salad usually takes an hour to make, then there's the clean-up later. I listen to old radio shows like "Suspense" while I work.


Hey, Disney's "Paperman" short is on YouTube! It's an historic film which tries out a new technique. See what you think of it!


Kelly Toon said...

I am willing to share my dad's famous "caesar" salad dressing, that he learned to make tableside while serving at a high end steakhouse in Palm Springs, back ni it's hey-day.

In your container, mix:

~1 or 2 minced garlic cloves (I use a garlic press for this)
~1 tablespoon good dijon mustard
~The juice of half a lemon
~two or three splashes worcestershire sauce
~optional ingredients: 1 raw egg yolk and/or a few anchovies.

slowly drizzle in about 1/2 cup of olive oil, whisking/stirring briskly.

Pour over washed and dried, chilled romaine lettuce. Top with generous amount of grated parmesean and black pepper. It's best to chill your salad bowl beforehand as well. Love the tip to rub the bowl with a garlic clove, thank you!

Roberto Severino said...

Eddie, I've finally moved into the apartment I told you about and it's actually been a good experience so far. It's not what I'd imagine it would be at all. The rooms are in really good condition and I'm not freezing to death like in the house I lived in before. Also, not many people are usually outside and if they are, they are going to work or school.

I'm also getting a new laptop today, most likely an HP G6 or something like that. In a few months, I will have to move again as I've said before and I didn't comment on your other post because I didn't have Internet for a few days. Hope all is well. Do you have any advice on how I can make my laptop last longer than two years and not have the battery overheat?

Roberto Severino said...

As for the Paperman film, I really enjoyed the effects close to the end where the paper planes start following the guy around. The animation is terrific there, but it's usual stock Disney designs and expressions, so on that front, it's not that innovative. If I had a budget like that and could make such a film, I'd break away from tradition and make an adult cartoon short and make it cartoony at the same time, inspired by the comedy shows on FX. I was watching a show called Legit with the comedian Jim Jeffries on TV the other day and it was absolutely hilarious and clever at the same time. Louie is the same way.

ardy said...

Great read, Eddie! I like the idea of having a dedicated process, almost a ceremony, when making something like a salad. It's such a simple dish with so much room for variation; if you just throw something together hastily you can end up feeling like you gypped yourself. I've neglected salads in the past for this reason, other than this Classic Spinach Salad from Alton Brown. Definitely gonna try these techniques & invest in a salad spinner.

Also, Paperman is interesting. I read the Wikipedia synopsis of the technique and it sounds kinda like rotoscoping on top of 3D amination, rather than live-action footage. Is there more to it than that?

kurtwil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kurtwil said...

Wrt the bicyclists clothing, there's an ULTRAMAN episode out there that tops them (surprised that one got past the censors).

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Kelly: Many thanks!!!!!! The raw egg yolk makes me hesitate, but I think I'll try it!

Roberto: I don't have any computer advice, but I have noticed that most machines that users say are on the fritz are actually okay. Lots of times the problem is a software problem.

kurtwil said...

Missed a key point of Paperman so yanked the old comment and am offering this link:

explains the process, which lets animators "tag" parts of the image (such as hair and clothing folds) and move them into a better position. A "toon" renderer makes shading look 2D, but doesn't offer this animation technique.