We talked to executive chef John Michael MacNeil of Teatro and chef Chevonne Miller of Centini for suggestions on how to make a memorable summer salad.
Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel
Summer is clearly the season for salads, but often we don’t make the most of our fruits and vegetables. By using different ingredients and techniques, you can make salads a memorable part of your next summer barbeque or dinner party.
Two Calgary chefs give us insight on making your next salad so much more than just a pile of greens and a dose of vinaigrette.
Executive Chef John Michael MacNeil loves to give traditional dishes a facelift by utilizing modernist techniques. He emphasizes that it is imperative to start with great ingredients; things that are in season, fresh and local. When it comes to the dressing, he suggests using a good olive oil, but nothing too fruity, as some extra virgin oils can predominate the flavour of a dish and mask the other ingredients.
Acidity is equally important in achieving balance. Different vinegars and even fruits, such as apples and grapes, can be used to accomplish this. White balsamic vinegar is Chef MacNeil’s go-to as it is both sweet and sour, and the clear colour does not darken the rest of the food, unlike traditional balsamic.
Chef MacNeil’s compressed melon salad with Iberico ham makes the perfect summer salad. It is so simple that it is not a recipe as much as it is a list of ingredients. Melon and prosciutto is a very typical Italian flavour combination, but Chef MacNeil elevates it into a salad that is not over complicated, despite its modern twist. The sweetness, saltiness, acidity and bitterness all balance together to make a great appetizer for a summer barbeque or even a late night snack. The first step is to compress the melon, removing the air and creating a dense, jello-like texture, as Chef Macneil describes.
Salad is often served as an appetizer or side, but it can also make for a substantial, yet light, entrée. Chef Chevonne Miller at Centini restaurant finds that as the warmer months approach, customers choose more salads for their main course, something that you can easily replicate at home.
She says that buying quality ingredients and combining them in just the right way can help you to produce, “restaurant-worthy dishes that will never fail to impress your friends or family.”
By prepping each individual component in advance, when it comes time to serve, all that remains is to dress and assemble the salad. For Centini’s Salad Niçoise, you can wash the greens, boil the eggs, potatoes and green beans ahead of time and store them chilled in individual containers. Then when you are ready to eat, just dress the lettuce with good vinegar and olive oil and artfully arrange the remaining ingredients on top.
Chef Miller suggests trying Spanish sherry vinegar as it has a complex flavour without coming across as harshly acidic. She also encourages home cooks to get creative, stressing that there are no fixed rules when making a delicious salad. Depending on what you like to eat and what ingredients you happen to have on hand, you can experiment with different techniques and flavour combinations.
Maybe you will end up creating a salad that becomes your own signature summer dish!