During my last trip to Sonoma, Kelly and I were able to make it into Williams-Sonoma to take a cooking class. We learned some great tips and tricks for creating great salads and dressings (and some amazing croutons). We thought it would only be fair to share those tips and tricks with you!
Don't buy pre-cut lettuce, I know it's an extra step, but washing, spinning, and tearing your own lettuce will produce a much fresher taste!
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the only reason I eat salads is for the croutons and the cheese. We learned how to make fresh crutons, that quite literally, melted in my mouth. First, heat up equal parts oil and butter in a large sauce pan, and add a few cloves of garlic directly into the fats. Let the garlic infuse the fats for a few minutes, on low heat. While your oils are infusing, cut a loaf of bread in half, then tear its insides out into little pieces. Remove the garlic from the fats, and turn the heat off. Season the oils with salt, pepper, and Parmesan, then add the bread pieces directly into the oils, and stir. Remove, and place on a Silpat lined baking sheet, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
For a great vinaigrette, the dressing should be a 10:4 ratio. 10 parts oil to 4 parts acid. Your acid can consist of vinegar or vinegar and lemon juice (or other cirtus). If you're adding in lemon juice, try also adding in the zest of one lemon.
You don't want your vinaigrette to have any notable flavors. Meaning, you don't want any of the ingredients to stand out on their own, except for perhaps lemon, or other citrus, if added. If you add too much honey, the dressing will be too sweet. If you add too much Dijon, the flavors won't be balanced. Add each ingredient in increments, tasting as you go!
Add the oil into the dressing very, very slowly, and whisking fervently as you go! Chef Dave told us that the top chefs in France even have someone to do this for them as they whisk!
Don't overdress your salad! At our cooking class, chef Dave taught us a great trick for keeping the dressing ratio just right! Rather than drizzling the dressing all over the salad, drizzle the dressing along the edge of the bowl, and let it drip down the sides. Then use tongs to 'spin' the salad around the bowl, incorporating the dressing onto all of the leaves. Remember, you can always add more dressing, but you can't take it out, so let guests add more at their own discretion.
What are your favorite salad tips and tricks? We'd love to hear in the comments below!
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