My favorites are the meal salads. When we were lucky enough to be taken to a restaurant for dinner as a kid, I was delighted to order the Chef’s Salad, the classic, high-protein salad that is often said to have been popularized in the 1940s by Louis Diat, the chef of the Ritz-Carlton in New York. I couldn’t believe you had this huge bowl all to yourself, with its artfully arranged mounds of julienned ham and turkey and Swiss cheese and hard-boiled eggs, lettuce and tomatoes. I was even more excited to match it with a choice of dressings – blue cheese, ranch, French, Russian, Italian, creamy Italian. I’m salivating just writing this sentence.
I don’t dispute that the greatest mealtime salad of all time, the Chef’s Salad, was created by a chef. The association of textures and flavors is of irreproachable professionalism. Sometimes people mistake the salad bowl for a lawless place of disorganized and mismatched ingredients, chopped and discarded – dried cranberries on pumpkin seeds on soggy corn – which offends me even, which claims no right to its leader in good faith. . However, a salad requires a little cheffing, a little attention to balance, texture and restraint. Things don’t taste better with bits of bacon scattered all over the top.
Here is a recipe in the tradition of French classics prepared salads, using both cooked and raw ingredients, which is eaten like a meal. Let’s call it a sous chef salad. It draws on a classic Nicoise – including good tuna in oil, juicy tomatoes, and a bold garlic vinaigrette. It uses green beans and baked potatoes, but I also use Greek olives, red globe radishes, Italian artichoke hearts and a few sprigs of fresh basil, and I have omitted the traditional anchovies. You arrange the ingredients on the bed of torn lettuce in an attractive way, but, most importantly, that ensures that there is a bite of everything in every fork.
It’s fun for a summer salad recipe to start by boiling a large pot of water. But this is where we start. Things that need to be cooked have different cooking times, and they can all be cooked together if you have confidence in the kitchen – removing each item as it is cooked. If you are shaking, start with the potatoes, follow with the beans and end with the eggs. (The eggs sometimes crack when boiling, so I don’t like to risk the albumin spilling into the blanching water.) There are a lot of opinions about what passes like cooking cooked vegetables properly. . Some people like the snap and the crunchy crunch, but I don’t. I love that my vegetable cooking adheres to what French chefs call the point in meat cooking – literally translating to the point at which the meat starts to bleed juicy juices inside. I feel the same for beans, asparagus, and baby zucchini: they’re cooked when they’re juicy inside.
I drain each item on a rack, cooling it to room temperature without the shock of an ice bath. This somewhat requires a consideration of distance, as the vegetables will continue to cook by residual heat. It’s like landing an airplane with enough tarmac in front for a smooth landing.