The salad day

Don't buy bottled salad dressing. I repeat. Do NOT buy bottled salad dressing. With a whisk, a bowl, and a few basic techniques, the power of the vinaigrette (or aoli, or green goddess, or caesar) can be yours. Today Jeff Fournier opened us up to a rainbow of dressings that ranged from spicy Cambodian-style vinaigrette to a pink-hued cranberry emulsion to classic Caesar. The idea was to understand techniques, not specific recipes. In the end, we will be able to apply the skills to whatever ingredients we like.

 Charred romaine with green goddess dressing

Charred romaine with green goddess dressing

We started with the cranberry. Armed with our powerful Vitamix blender, we simply added chopped shallots, dried cranberries, sherry vinegar, neutral oil, salt, pepper and whizzed it up until we had a lightly-textured, pretty-in-pink emulsion. It was tossed with baby kale, red grapes, sliced fennel, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts—a hearty winter salad that could double as a meal. You could substitute any variation of dried fruit, oil, and vinegar in the emulsion. How about figs with walnut oil? Maybe apricots with champagne vinegar?

Next up was the Cambodian salad of Napa cabbage, julienned carrots, Thai basil, red onion, sliced jalapenos and almonds. For the dressing, sugar went into a small pan of vinegar over moderate heat. Once dissolved it was combined with neutral oil and dried red pepper flakes. It's a sweet and spicy salad that's full of flavor and summertime brightness. You could even leave it overnight in the fridge for a more slaw-like effect. Jeff was enamored with this salad when he visited Cambodia and has been replicating it ever since.

Friseé au lardons is a French bistro classic and was next on our list of salad projects. For Jeff's rendition, we quickly charred halved heads of curly endive and garnished them with chunks of cooked bacon and a poached egg. The simple dressing consisted of wine vinegar, dijon mustard, minced shallots, and canola oil that was all whisked together by hand. Chef Fournier doesn't allow the use of machines in his kitchen for things like emulsions and whipped cream. He wants his cooks to be closer to the food so they can understand how and when the ingredients react.

We also used the hand-whisking method for Green Goddess dressing. First, "fines herbes" (tarragon, chervil, parsley, and chives) were blanched, shocked, and blended in the Vitamix with anchovies and oil. Then Jeff made mayonnaise with fresh egg yolks, lemon juice, and oil. When the emulsion was thick, the green puréed herbs were blended in. It was drizzled over charred Romaine. Delightful.

We also made a classic Caesar salad that included pan fried, buttery croutons and a dusting of grated Parmesan. I often make Caesar dressing at home, but not with the same care and patience of chef Fournier. I usually just add all the ingredients at once and whisk. But by making a mayonnaise first, then adding in anchovy and garlic paste, balsamic, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, the finished product is silky and refined. All of the techniques we covered today would make a dressing master out of any Wishbone dependant. I certainly feel empowered.