Every chef will tell you that you have to have the right tools to cook with, and a good set of knives is essential. If you can’t afford a complete assortment and a wooden knife block, buy a good paring knife, a chef’s knife (sometimes called a cook’s knife or a French knife), and a slicer. The paring knife should be small enough to fit into the hand comfortably but big enough to do the job it’s intended for. A slicer usually has a long, thin blade and is used to cut cooked meats and poultry. It is sometimes called a carving knife.
A chef’s knife has a wider blade than the slicer and can range from six to twelve inches long. It is usually heavy and used to cut food by rocking on the pointed end and slicing downward. Smaller chef’s are great for chopping small fruits and vegetables and herbs, and larger blades may be used for bigger items. For most people, an 8 inch or a 10 inch chef’s knife is the ideal size. It’s big enough to attack a variety of foods yet is not unwieldily. Some home cooks prefer the 10 inch blade because it has enough weight and length to go after celery and carrots and make short work of them.
Serrated knives, called Japanese Santoku knives, are good, especially for the cook who uses a chef’s knife like a cleaver. These knives, however, are difficult to keep sharp. Though they will retain their edge initially for a long time without having to use a steel, the serrations make it difficult to sharpen. The only exception is the bread knife which is serrated but does not wear down as much because it saws through soft surfaces.
Summer is just the right time to show off your artistic side, not only in an edible collage of colors, tastes, shapes, and textures in your salads, but also in your tableware. Though a colorful salad will look good on any plate or bowl, sometimes you just want to make a more intense visual splash at the table. Salad plates are just one way to slow off your creativity. Smaller than a dinner plate, salad china can match your dinnerware or they can be bold solid colors that complement your tableware. Mediterranean designs and rustic stoneware can also add a summer feel to your salad course. But, serving up a green salad on a sunflower-painted plate or putting a pasta salad on a plate that looks like a cabbage leaf will get your guests talking. This is an especially nice touch to do when you are hosting a summer luncheon or tea. And, if you are having trouble getting your youngsters or even your spouse to eat their veggies, put your salads on red or red-orange plates. Psychologists say that these warm colors stimulate the appetite.
This simple Sesame Thai Salad Dressing recipe requires just four simple ingredients. This one is especially good when poured over leaf lettuce, mandarin oranges, cooked asparagus, and slivered almonds:
Sesame Thai Dressing
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Hoisan sauce
Put all ingredients into a bowl, add the oil, and whisk together.
Here is a recipe for a great-tasting homemade Balsamic Vinegar dressing!
Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
- 1/3 cup vinegar
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon marjoram
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon shallot, minced (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Put all ingredients in a small bowl. Combine by whisking or using an emulsion blender.
TIP: Chef Scott suggests soaking the shallot in vinegar to take the bite out before mincing it.
If you are looking for a quick and easy salad dressing that you can make at home, this Green Herb Dressing should fit the bill:
Green Herb Dressing
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- up to 1/3 cup water
- 1 green onion, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon parsley
Put everything into a container and blend with an emulsion blender. Take note that the Rosemary will keep it’s shape when all is said and done.
Freshly made salad dressings can enhance any salad green. The trick is to produce a dressing that is light without masking the subtle flavors of the salad. A splash of olive oil or balsamic vinegar often is all that is needed.
For those who can’t bear their salad greens naked, we recommend good olive oil, either extra virgin - or the new - lighter-tasting varieties. Either white vinegar or cider vinegar can be used in many salad dressing recipes.
Chef Scott’s tip: For any salad dressing, always whisk the oil into the vinegar either before adding the other ingredients or afterwards. This will keep the oil from “breaking” or separating from the dressing. But if you are dressing the salad before plating and will not be serving the dressing on the side, you can just mix and pour. Whisking the oil into the dressing, however, is a good habit to get into.
The Salad Chef is ideal for the extreme home gourmet cook. You create your salad dressing mixture in the glass carafe, which has pre-marked lines for oils and vinegars. Then, you insert the mini battery-powered emulsifing blender (what Emeril often calls a “Boat Motor”) into the carafe and blend away. The Salad Chef comes with an instruction booklet and fill-line charts so you don’t even have to measure
The Gourmet Oil Mister is a sleek stainless steel container that can be filled with oil or even a thin salad dressing. You pump the can to build up the pressure and then spray onto your salad. You can also use it to spray pans or directly onto meats, fish, or veggies. Many of the commercial oil sprays have additives (usually alcohol) to atomize the oil. Pump sprays are an alternative, but even then you can’t always get your favorite brand of olive oil or other vegetable oil in them. This way, you can use your favorite oils and not add something non-food related to your meal.
The subtle flavors of delicate mixed greens should not be masked by heavy dressings, like cream and highly-spiced ones. A splash of olive oil or balsamic vinegar can often be all that is needed. French vinaigrette, a light dressing made with cider vinegar or lemon juice, oil, salt, and a pinch of dried mustard, is the perfect mate for delicate greens. If you are calorie-conscious, make your vinaigrette with the following formula: 1 part lemon juice or vinegar, 1 part oil, 2 parts water, salt, and dried mustard. You can add garlic and/or light herbs like dill or thyme.
While we are in the middle of salad week, don’t think we forgot about all those tasty salads that have nothing to do with lettuce. In fact, here is a recipe for Italian Tomato Cheese Salad - perfect for use an an hors d’oeuvre or first course:
Italian Tomato Cheese Salad
- 2-3 tomatoes, sliced thinly
- 6-8 ounces cheese (mozzarella, baby Swiss, or havarti), sliced thinly
- olive oil
- salt (optional)
- 1 teaspoon fresh basil, minced
Slice the cheese to the size of each tomato slice. Place the tomato and cheese slices in three rows down a plate, alternating tomato and cheese. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and salt lightly if desired. Sprinkle minced basil over the salad. The dish may be chilled or served at room temperature.
Wash garden lettuces or other salad greens well, but do not let them soak in water. This can soften the leaves and cause them to spoil quicker. Dry the greens thoroughly, either by blotting with paper towels or with a salad spinner.
They can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but put a damp paper towel into the bag before closing. Otherwise, place a paper towel in the bottom of a plastic container. Put in the salad greens, then place a damp paper towel over the lettuce. Cover with an airtight lid.
Watercress can be stored by sticking the stems in a glass of water and placing a plastic bag over the leaves. Wild greens should be used immediately. Lettuce will last 3-5 days depending on the variety. Romaine will keep longer. Tear or cut lettuces and greens before adding them to salads. Cut strong-tasting wild greens into smaller pieces than you would for lettuces to distribute their flavors.
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