I’ve become a big fan of the “composed salad”. Instead of putting your greens, veggies, etc. in a bowl and tossing it all together with your favorite dressing, consider the artful placement of said items on individual serving plates. You know, like they do in restaurants.
This salad was inspired by our recent trip to Paris and southwest France where salade compose is high art. Add to that my new-found California source for duck legs confit and a wonderful toasted walnut oil*, and not only am I transported back to the sensual, palate-pleasing culinary experiences of our trip, I’m able to create a semblance of the experience in my own kitchen. A meal in itself, here’s what I did to compose this salad; yours can be as simple or as complex as your time and creativity allows.
The dressing: 3 tablespoons good sherry vinegar, such as Vinagre de Jerez. 1 heaping tablespoon French Dijon mustard A pinch of Kosher or Maldon Sea salt Generous grindings of Tellicherry peppercorns 1/3 cup toasted walnut oil warmed duck fat from the confit (see below), 1 teaspoon, more or less
Place vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a glass container (I use a Bonne Mamman jelly jar, sans jelly) and whisk well. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly until combined and emulsified. Whisk in the duck fat. Set aside at room temperature.
The salad: A mix of organic lettuce greens 4 hard boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and cut in half lengthwise 16 spears asparagus, peeled and roasted ** 2 red beets, roasted**, cooled, peeled and cut into eighths 2 ripe tomatoes, washed and cut into eighths (optional) Nicoise olives, pitted Toasted walnut halves or pieces 1 confit of duck leg with thigh attached, sliced from the bone. Scrape the duck fat from around the meat and save for the dressing above.
Place greens in a bowl and toss with some of the dressing, just to coat. Mound a generous portion of greens on each plate. Arrange the rest of your offerings on top of the greens in any fashion that pleases you. I made the duck confit stand out as a special treat for this salad, placing it on top to show it off. To excercise your creative skills even more, you could add a round of warm goat cheese. Drizzle with a bit more dressing and serve.
Notes: *When I’m in Davis (my hometown), I usually make a trip to my favorite market, "The Nugget" on Covell Blvd. A walk down the cheese aisle alone is enough to make me weak in the knees. On our recent visit, shopping list in hand, cooler in the car, I discovered Grimaud Farms of California confit of duck legs with thighs attached, along with foie gras and the coveted duck fat (this to be the subject of another post), not to mention whole ducks and geese. In the gourmet oils aisle, I found La Tourangelle toasted walnut oil, produced up the road in Woodland. Open the can and breathe in the gentle, nutty aromas - heaven. Happy cook - oh happy, happy cook!
**To roast the asparagus, peel the stems with a vegetable peeler, snapping off the tough ends. Place asparagus on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with Kosher salt and a drizzle of good olive oil. Roast in a 500 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, turning the asparagus to brown on both sides halfway through roasting. I usually just shake the pan to turn them, rather than turning each one individually. To roast the beets, wrap each washed and trimmed beet in foil, place on a cookie sheet and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes to one hour. Open foil packets and cool beets to room temperature. Peel and slice.