Salads and Garnishes
Salads are mixtures of various ingredients accompanied by a sauce or dressing. They are a diverse category of prepared foods served as appetizers, side accompaniments, entrees, sandwich fillings, or even desserts. Salads can be prepared with lettuces, assorted vegetables, grains, pasta, fruits or proteins. They can be simple preparations of fresh lettuces tossed with light vinaigrette or minced or diced meats bound with a mayonnaise-based sauce. Most salads are served cold but there are variations such as a spinach salad with a warm bacon vinaigrette or a hot slaw salad.
Lettuce salads are meant as a fresh and light appetizer, or as a digestive at the end of a meal, and include mixes of any variety of leafy vegetables tossed with garnishes of varied textures, and a dressing or cold sauce accompaniment. The key to a great lettuce salad is combining it with an appropriate dressing and complementing it with fresh garnishes that add color, taste, and texture. The lettuces should be fresh, clean, and crisp. Lettuce salads are also combined with proteins, cheeses, and other hearty vegetables, to create entrée salads including Chefs Salad, Cobb Salad, or Salad Nicoise.
Fresh lettuces tend to be delicate vegetables with a limited shelf life. For fresh quality and longer shelf life, purchase whole heads of lettuces whenever
possible. The fresher the lettuces the better the taste and the more nutrients they will contain. Buying greens locally often mean they are fresher and will have an even longer shelf life than commercially grown greens that are trucked thousands of miles before they get to you. Store lettuces at 40˚F/4˚C and. Cover with an air-tight seal to avoid wilting, and keep head lettuces whole until needed to prolong their life.
Green lettuces are fragile and must be handled and stored with care. Always inspect lettuces upon delivery and trim or remove damaged or rotting leaves to avoid deterioration of the healthy greens.
Lettuces are cut or torn depending on preference, usually prior to cleaning. If cutting, make sure the knife is sharp to avoid excess bruising. For the best appearance, be sure to process them to a uniform size. Since the lettuces and other leafy vegetablesdeteriorate quickly, process only as much as needed for a shift or for the day.
Lettuces often trap grit and dirt within their folds requiring special attention when cleaning and cutting. Wash all greens prior to service, (some varieties are processed and pre-washed requiring no further cleaning). To properly clean lettuces plunge them in a sink full of cool water; add a small amount of ice if desired. Swirl the greens to loosen any grit allowing the dirt to sink to the bottom. The salad can then be easily skimmed off the top of the water. This process may need to be repeated up to three times depending on the amount of grit in the lettuces. If the lettuces are slightly wilted, allowing them to sit in warm water will help to revive them.
Once the lettuces are removed from the water they should be dried well because excess water will prevent the dressing from clinging to the lettuces and will also water down the dressing. A spin dryer is most efficient for removing excess moisture. Once cleaned and dried the lettuces need to be properly stored either in a pan lined with a perforated false bottom or lined with paper towels. Keep the container properly sealed because lettuces wilt quickly when exposed to air.
Garnishes for Salads
Garnishes provide a variety of colors, textures and flavors to a lettuce salad. Keep the ingredients fresh and uniformly sized in appearance. Garnished are only limited by a chefs imagination. Vegetables (fresh or cooked), fruits (fresh or dried), cheese, proteins (meat, poultry, and fish), croutons, nuts and seeds, are options. Sprouts, flowers, and micro shoots are also possibilities.
Plating Lettuce Salads
It is always best to sauce a lettuce salad at the time of service. Vinaigrettes and heavy emulsion dressings that contain oil will quickly wilt the salad if tossed and left to sit even just a few minutes. Use a stainless steel bowl to toss the salads as needed. Add a small amount of dressing; avoid drowning the salad in the sauce. Some garnishes including fresh vegetables and fruits can also be tossed in the dressing. Plate the salad closely together to create some height on the plate. Add the appropriate garnish and serve immediately. Because salads are raw ingredients meant to be served immediately without heating be sure to use a tongs or wear plastic gloves to avoid sanitation problems.
Vegetable & Fruit Salads
Vegetables, raw or cooked, in any variety of combinations create great options for all types of menus including salad bars and side accompaniments. These salads can be as simple as fresh tomatoes tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil, or more complex such as a Moroccan carrot salad with cumin seeds, olive oil, lemon juice and cilantro.
Vegetable salads are a good way to use seasonal or excess produce. They are easily sauced with available house dressings and sauces making them quick to prepare.
Most fruits are served raw in salads. They can be combined with an assortment of other fruits or vegetables. They often provide a sweet counterpoint to vegetables.
Remember that fresh vegetables and fruits are loaded with water. Once cut and combined with salt and vinegar, vegetables purge excess water and should be drained periodically.
Pasta, Grain & Legume Salads
Hearty salads with a variety of starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes are often used as side salads or on buffets, and are carbohydrate rich options that provide a filling accompaniment with sandwiches or other entrees. These salads often include additional cooked or raw vegetables, meat proteins and a dressing.
- Roots & Tubers
- Beans & Lentils
- Grains: Rice, Bulgur, Quinoa
In French cuisine, a Salade Composée is an assortment of ingredients that are arranged aesthetically on a plate. The ingredients provide complementary and contrasting flavors, textures, and colors. They include cooked proteins like grilled chicken, shrimp, or tuna. The salad is often dressed tableside. Many entrée salads, including Cobb Salad, Salade Nicoise, and Caesar Salad, are variations on composed salads. A successful composed salad has a balance of colors, flavors, and textures. It frequently includes lettuces, cooked or raw vegetables, meat, poultry, or fish proteins, eggs, cheese, potatoes, or beans. Although the dressings are regularly olive oil-based vinaigrettes, other variations can be considered as well.
A deconstructed salad takes the components of a salad and rearranges them on a plate. Deconstructed salads offer a fresh and different way to think about the typical arrangement of lettuce, garnish, and dressing.
Some heartier lettuces including romaine, radicchio, and escarole can be lightly grilled and tossed with a dressing. Garnished of vegetables, croutons, and even cheeses are drilling options for creating different taste and textures on salads.
For grilled salads: Avoid grilling everything on a salad because it creates one dimensional tastes and textures.