Dressing for dinner

In a bid to fight off middle-aged spread rejecting carbs in favour of salads is part of my strategy. A few months on and I sense I am being punished for a positive lifestyle choice by lazy chefs. People who read this blog will know that we only publish reviews of places we can wholeheartedly recommend with the occasional sprinkle of constructive criticism. We could, if we wanted to, dish out some real corkers but it’s a smallish food community in Surrey and we like to focus on hits not misses.

eliza's salmon salad 9x6

Lots of eateries offer main course salads but it isn’t always a healthy choice as you could take in more calories than a pizza (for example an American hot pizza in Pizza Express is 821Kcal while a warm vegetable and goats cheese salad is even more at 860Kcal). Either way at 35% of your daily calorie allowance before drinks, desserts and coffees are added, not good. It’s better to order a cooked main (grilled chicken, steak or fish) and then ask for the carbohydrate element (usually fries) to be replaced with a salad. If executed well this can be one of the tastiest meals around but all too often 100% effort goes into the protein element and the salad suffers. In fairness a smattering of places do manage to serve a tasty veg packed plate. A higher number sadly just don’t bother at all. Order a steak and you would be astonished if you weren’t asked how you wanted it cooked and given a choice of sauce. Salad, in stark contrast, gets plonked in a bowl and served completely starkers. Where I wonder is the hospitality in that? In addition you (yes chef) have been let off the chore of frying yet more chips. This is an area in your kitchen where you could (like Yottam Ottolenghi and Jamie Oliver) really let your creativity flow (if you could be bothered).

In my dream restaurant the conversation with the waiter would go something like this after I have dropped the salad in place of chips bombshell:

“How would you like your salad served? Today we have a choice of three dressings one of which is a low fat option. We can serve the salad dressing on the side or toss it for you in the kitchen”. Choice here is important some people just like things on the side a point well made in  “When Harry met Sally”.

In the real world my experience has been a combination of:

  • We don’t make dressing here
  • “Here is some balsamic vinegar and olive oil; make it yourself”
  • A jug of red oil from a jar of sundried tomatoes
  • A bowl of olive oil with something very small (not identified) floating in it
  • A small bowl of salad leaves with a mean drizzle of dressing on the top which is impossible to mix in without making a huge mess

Not wanting to seem singular in my discontent I talked salad dressing to a couple of fellow food educators in Surrey to find out what they thought.

David Gilliat is a talented chef and gifted teacher who runs Four Gables Food Academy . I went to a fish course at his cookery school and left feeling inspired and impressed. David told me “When I was training I was taught to dress a salad with something fun and exciting and to never serve a salad naked”. He said that it was not acceptable to just send a bowl of leaves out of the kitchen and expect the recipient to be grateful.

Andrew Maxwell a former chef and now a Managing Director and Principal of the Tante Marie Culinary Academy in Woking told me “We’ve had a good old debate here about salads and I’m with you 100%. There are few things that make me angrier than a bad salad! A salad can be a garnish on a plate or it can be a meal in itself, but the one thing it should not be is an afterthought and these days, it is often is exactly that! No matter how big or small, it should contain a good variety of seasonal leaves, perhaps a few edible flowers, maybe a tiny touch of seasoning and a beautiful dressing – just enough to give the leaves a glistening shine. That is not difficult and is the minimum one should expect”.

I rest my case.

Text and images Shirlee

Text and images Shirlee