Salad Daze Transcript

In The Beginning

    In the beginning, tossed salad was a foraged food of necessity. Those who got passed the dirt and occasional snake noticed they felt better, smelt better and even lived a little longer.

Roman Times

    An ice age or two later, a salad finally gets its name from the Romans who's favorite dressing is sal, salt—lot's of salt.

William Shakespeare's Desk - 1607

    The year, 1607. Looking for a phrase to describe times of youthful inexperience, Elizabethan wordsmith, Will Shakespeare coins the phrase, "Salad Days."

Road to Louis XIV

GUESTS: French Oil Vendor
             French Vinegar Maker

    Rushing to serve the salad crazed Louis XIV, an oil vendor and vinegar maker share a carriage ride and make a discovery. [the carriage hits a bump and some of the oil and vinegar splash in to each vendor's container]

OIL VENDOR: Heh, oy.
OV: Estupido.
VM: You've, you've gotten your greasy oil inside my beautiful vinegar.
OV: You're smelly, stinky white stuff into my wonderful oil, heh.
VM & OV: Oooooooooh! [they both pull out a celery stick, dip it in their liquid and take a bite.]
OV: Hey, that's not bad.
VM: It's perfect.
OV: Yes.


    Some 300 years later, a Chicago restaurateur has an idea and changes the salad world forever. [the camera leans too close to the salad bar and bumps into the sneeze guard]

Restaurant - 1990s

    The innovative 90's have brought the salad full circle. [a waiter brings a "unique" salad to AB's table] Oh, with a side of curried boysenberry vinaigrette ... oh my. You know, in French 'salad' also means "mess" and I say, well, if the shoe fits you must acquit.
    Join us as we decipher the much maligned and over wrought tossed salad. We'll tour the world of greens, contemplate the deep recesses of your crisper drawer, check out some got-to-have tools and dress properly for dinner. I may have my doubts about this ["salad" in front of him], but this, I'm sure, is Good Eats.

Field of Greens
Harry's Farmers Market

    The way we see it, the salad universe splits into two distinct galaxies: the mild sweet lettuces and the loose federation of chicory, watercress, escarole, radicchio, endive, arugula ... what I call the Mean Greens. The art in all of this is to personalize the mix, to find the balance that leads you to salad happiness.
    Don't feel like head hunting? Cut and cleaned mixes are the salad bowl trend of the day. From the old Provençal word for mixture, mesclun was originally an intricate but balanced blend of about 12, maybe, 15 young greens. These days just about any young mixture gets called mesclun—whether it is or not—often with mixed results. Still, if it's fresh and sold loose like this, mesclun can be an excellent value, especially if you're trying to get into the exotic green pool one foot at a time. But be careful about prepackaged or bagged mesclun mixes. It's very fragile and perishable and so often the pretty picture you get in the front of the window isn't what's going on inside the bag.

Star Route Farms, Northern California

GUEST: Doug Gallagher, Organic Farms

    Want to know what fresh greens should look like in your produce department? Well, as much like this as possible. [indicates the green plants in front of him]  I mean, just look at this head of butter crisp lettuce. It's perfect. The leaves are crisp. There are no blemishes anywhere. It's just perfect. It holds it's shape when it's moved around, no slimy spots. This is Grade A produce. This is what you should look for in any lettuce, really, whether it's a tight head or a loose head.
    Now, admittedly, some lettuces are never going to be this crisp. There are some more delicate greens. For instance, this frisee is a much looser head and it's never going to be as crisp as the butter crisp, but it does have a lot of the same characteristics. There are no blemishes, the color is bright, the leaves are crisp even though they are delicate. And above all, there's no wilting. It's a great head of lettuce. Oh, these white caps, by the way, are put on just a few days before harvest so that the heart will turn white. It's a French thing.
    Now, heavy ribbed heads like romaine and this loose head radicchio should stand up straight without any signs of cracks along the ribs. Now wilted goods are either old or damaged and while many greens can be revived—to a point—by soaking in cold water, off specimens are never fully going to recover.
    Take time to look closely at your prospective salad fodder. Feel the leaves. And if nobody's looking just go ahead and, uh, take a bite. [takes a bite]

DOUG GALLAGHER: [walks up] So what are you eating?

    Busted like Benjamin Bunny.

AB: Um, nothing.  You must be Doug Gallagher.
DG: I am.
AB: Pleasure. Uh, nice organic spread you got going here.
DG: Thank you.
AB: So, Doug, what does a guy like you have to do to grow lettuce like this?
DG: Well, we take care of the soil, first thing, and that grows a better plant.
AB: That makes sense.
DG: We use a lot of compost and build the soil. We also use rock powders and oyster shells and then cover-cropping in the winter.
AB: So, you just turn that in. It's like raising your own fertilizer, right?
DG: Right.
AB: Wow. How can people at home make sure that they buy the best.
DG: Buying locally is good, Farmer's Markets or farm stands and ask your grocer, produce man, you know.
AB: Okay, so come clean, Doug. Do you eat your vegetables? Do you eat your salad?
DG: I sure do. Frisee and arugula.
AB: Good deal. You've got it going.

    Okay, so maybe you're not buying organic frisee every day or nettles or radicchio or butter crisp lettuce. But, even that hearty head of iceberg deserves some respect, so be gentle, will you? I mean, salad greens are, well, they're a lot like nitroglycerin. They're not going to tolerate rough handling in the field, in the store and they're not going to tolerate it at home. So be gentle.

The Average American eats 30 Lbs. of lettuce a year.

It's Alive
The Kitchen

GUEST: The Mad Chef

    [holding a container] This is how much carbon dioxide a 1 lb. head of lettuce can exhale while you're at work. That's right. Even after harvest, greens, especially lettuces, go on about their business metabolizing nutrients and breathing. So if you want the greens that you bought on Monday to make it through to see Sunday, you're going to have to force them into a kind of suspended animation; which, as anyone who's ever seen a science fiction movie can tell you, involves a few steps.
    Bath time. Fill a sink with about as much cold water as it will hold. Now, remember, lettuce grows in dirt and believe it or not by the time you get it home its still got a lot of dirt with it. Filling the sink all the way will allow us to get the dirt off of the lettuce and let it sink to the bottom of the sink.
    Most lettuces will last longer if the leaves are left intact. But some hearty heads like this radicchio and this romaine you can cut with a knife.

THE MAD CHEF: What are you doing? You should never cut zee greens with a knife. Tear zee greens. Doucement. Gently.
  AB: [cuts the greens with a knife]
TMC: Aaaaaaaaah!

    Heh, heh. Well, this is what he's talking about. See, all the leaves of greens and lettuces are basically little bitty cellulose boxes that are full of water. It's kind of like this bubble wrap. Just pretend that these are full of water instead of air. When you cut a leave—well, besides looking like Norman Bates—you breach some of the cells. Now, on a softer more fragile leaf this would result in bruising, a kind of darkening along the edge of the cut which is ugly and gummy.
    But, if you tear the same leaf, the leaves just split right along the cell boundary. So if you're prepping delicate stuff, either tear it or leave them whole until you serve them. Hearty leaves like romaine, go ahead and cut. Don't worry about what Chef said. Just be sure you slice, don't hack.
    Washing isn't just about coming clean. It's about rehydrating, loading up the leaves with plenty of moisture so they'll stay crisp during their long nap in the refrigerator. You're going to be surprised how even badly wilted greens can bounce back after a 20 minute cold soak. You might also be surprised at how much dirt there is in the bottom of the sink. I've heard of vitamins and minerals but that's ridiculous. So, give these about a 2 to 3 minute drain then take them for a spin.

Bed Bath & Beyond: 11:27 am

GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist

    As we have now seen, moisture inside the greens good, but moisture on the greens, bad. That's why we're here meeting up with our equipment specialist, W.

 W: What you need is a spinner.
AB: My thoughts exactly.
 W: Pay attention, will you?
AB: A spinner is a centrifuge. You know? Like a spin cycle in your washing machine?
 W: It's the best way to dry greens fast. The difference between makes and models usually revolves around the drive mechanism.
AB: [is pulling the handle on a model that uses a "start" cord like a lawn mower] I can't get this one to start.
 W: This is my favorite. It utilizes a spring loaded Archimedes screw.
AB: Ha, oh. Archimedes. Of course.
 W: Just push it a couple of times and it even has a brake.
AB: So, greens all dry ...
 W: Yes.
AB: ... wet water stuff here [in the lower bowl]. I'll take it. Wonderful job. But, uh, you know you really should get the lawn mower fixed.

The Kitchen

    Now that the spin cycle is finishing up, there's one last step to suspended lettuce animation and that's oxygen depravation. After all, greens won't rot so fast if they can't breathe and they can't breathe if, well, there's no air. So just spread the greens out on a single layer of paper towel and then roll them up loosely. Now we're going to pop this whole thing into a heavy, resealable kitchen bag. Now, the towel is going to wick away any surface moisture and then slowly give it back as the greens need it. Squeeze out as much air as you can without crushing the greens and then just use a regular straw to suck out the rest. Laminated lettuce. Perfect for holiday gift giving.

The darker the leaf the more nutritious the green.

The Zen of the Vin
The Kitchen

    So how many cooks does it take to make salad dressing? Well, there's an old kitchen proverb that says, three: you've got a miser for the vinegar, a spendthrift for the oil and wise man for the salt. The dressing in question, of course, is the martini of the salad world, the vinaigrette; that ethereal coupling of oil and wine which through the metabolic activity of acidic bacteria has become vinegar.
    But the problem with oil and vinegar is that they're a lot like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton or this stuff inside this Lava Lamp. See, they don't really get along. It's a surface tension thing. See, oil wants to spread out and coat everything in the place while vinegar wants to bead up and roll away like rain on a freshly waxed car hood.
    Now, they can be coerced into working together. Um, the addition of an emulsifier, for instance, like egg yolk or mustard would do the trick. But when all else fails, brute force will do the trick. The problem is like Liz and Dick's first 3 marriages, this union is temporary.
    I build my vinaigrettes in a 1953 cocktail shaker given to me by Dean Martin. Dean and I went to college together. His dad was a bartender. You can use any lidded container but glass is best because it doesn't hold on to flavors the way plastic does. See, plastic and fats have certain molecular similarities which is why it's so hard to get, say, bacon fat off a bicycle seat.

    You can adjust for personal taste, but the classic rule of thumb for vinaigrette is a 3-to-1, oil-to-vinegar ratio. But more important than the ratio is the process itself. You want to start with everything but the oil. In this case, I'm going to start with two ounces Red Wine Vinegar—that's a quarter cup, you know—and two teaspoons of smooth Dijon mustard. We're going to use a fat pinch of kosher salt, two crushed cloves of garlic and a little bit of black pepper.

2 oz Wine Vinegar
2 tsp Dijon
Kosher Salt
2 Cloves Garlic
Black Pepper

    Now the point here is to dissolve the salt and integrate the mustard into the vinegar. Now since oil isn't technically wet, this is easier done in its absence. Now since we started with two ounces of vinegar we're going to add oil up to the eight ounce or one cup mark and then we'll give it just a little extra shot for the mustard. That's going to get us up to a 3-to-1 ratio.
    Now, shake with vigor. This is the forced part of the equation. See, the more you shake the more the vinegar breaks up into tiny droplets. When enough of these droplets have been suspended in the oil, the mixture will thicken to the consistency of cream. Now, the mustard, as you can see here, has not been invited for flavor alone. Mustard is made up of tiny, solid particles suspended in liquid. When all these little bits, these particles, block the vinegar droplets from joining together and sinking to the bottom of the glass the mustard is acting as an emulsifier. Think of it as the glue that keeps the oil and the vinegar working together.

Vinaigrettes can also be emulsified with pureed vegetables.

Dressing For Dinner
The Kitchen

    Nothing, well almost nothing, is more repulsive than a salad swimming in a pool of watered down dressing. Yech. Now, by properly prepping and storing our greens we've got that one beat. See, dressings stick to dry leaves better than they do to wet leaves so not only do dry leaves make better tasting salads, they also can do the job with a lot less dressing. Now, you can get by with just a teaspoon per serving. Just put the dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
    Now, time to introduce the greens. I've got about 4 servings here and it's time to toss. But with what? [holds his hand]  When properly cleaned, these are the best friends delicate greens ever had. Just think of your hand as a big, soft fork and just fold. Let gravity do the rest. That's it. Now, when all the leaves looked coated, just shiny, you're done.
     Restaurants keep their salad plates chilled and so should you. Cold plates help keep greens stay crisp longer. So, your salad will thank you.
    Here's the last big tip. Serve this right away. Make sure the diners meet their chairs before the greens meet the dressing. See, no pool of dressing left in the bottom of the bowl. We didn't over dress for dinner.

Hail Caesar
Club Caesar Salad

GUESTS: Maître D' / Waiter
             Caesar Salad Date #1
             Caesar Salad Date #2

    Welcome to Club Caesar Salad. Granddad out bowling tonight? Good. Kids tucked in bed? Excellent. Please join us won't you? After all, we think tCaesar Salad is a salad best enjoyed by consenting adults.
    You know, it all started back in 1924 when Chef Caesar Cardini's Tijuana eatery was jumping with prohibition-weary Hollywood big wigs looking for a good time. Things got so heavy that Chef Caesar decided to cut his kitchen staff some slack and come up with a new special, one that would be prepared at table and eaten with the hands which made him very popular with the dishwashers.
    Now, the dish was a salad and it was simplicity incarnate. It all began with the inner leaves of two heads of Romaine lettuce dressed simply with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of one lemon, two maybe three dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese.

CAESAR SALAD DATE #1: What about the anchovies?
MAÎTRE D': Uh, no. Sorry. Never anchovies in Caesar Salad. But, there will be a lovely dressing. And the pièce de résistance, garlic croutons. You'll excuse me, won't you?

The Kitchen

    So I ask this French woman, why is it you guys hold American cooks in such low esteem. She looks right at me and she says, "vous achetez des croûtons." "You buy croutons." Huuh!  Well, not any more I don't and neither should you. It all starts with a day-old loaf of Italian bread. Just cut it into cubes, 1/2 to 3/4 inch is fine. Put the whole thing in a 350° oven. You don't want them to color or get hard, just dry out a little bit.

    Then, put on a small sauce pan of water to boil, that's for the eggs, the dressing, later, and then mash up about three cloves of garlic with, let's say, 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and half a teaspoon of kosher salt. If you don't have a mortar and pestle it's okay just punch up the garlic with whatever you have handy.

2 cups bread cubes
3 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp XV olive oil
Pinch kosher salt

    When the croutons are dry, strain the oil into a skillet over medium heat and then fry the croutons tossing constantly until all the oil is absorbed and they take on a golden color. Your mouth will water from the smell of garlic I promise. Remove when they're done, and cool.
    When the water comes to a boil, add your room temperature eggs for exactly one minute.

Shortly after it's invention, Caesar's Salad was hailed by the International
Society of Epicures as America's greatest dish in 50 years.

    Then chill them to stop the cooking.

Club Caesar Salad

    Now, the thing I like best about Caesars is that it's a process better shared with people at the table. So, once you've got all your ingredients in place, start off by, well, telling a nice joke or maybe some witty repartee.

MD: "You look lovely tonight." "How long has your hair been like that." "Ooo, nice tie." Stuff like that.

    Anyway, once you do face the salad we'll begin with just about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, not the cheap stuff. This is the time to get out the good stuff. But no more than two tablespoons. The point, right now at least, is to just start to coat the leaves. This is a dressing that gets built stage by stage onto the leaves.

MD: "How are the kids?" "Doing well in school?" "How do you like that new Valare Wagon?"  That kind of thing.

    Now, once you've got the olive oil on, you're going to season the leaves with a heavy pinch of kosher salt. You can go with a little less if you use sea salt and if you decide to use regular table salt, well just don't make Caesars at all, then.  And, seven grinds of pepper. Coarse, of course. Toss again. No, that's not too much pepper. We'll add the last part of the olive oil, about another, well, one maybe two tablespoons—again, it's the good stuff—and toss again.

MD: "Have you met the new neighbors?" "How are they?" "Yes, their dog barks very loudly." Yada, yada, yada.

    Now, we're going to add the acid part of the dressing. Lemon juice. One whole lemon, just wring it right over the salad. If you happen to get a seed in there, don't worry. Won't hurt anybody. And after the lemon, three shots of Worcestershire sauce. And this is actually why a lot of people think that there are anchovies in Caesars because there are anchovies in Worcestershire sauce. One, two, three. Whoa. That's enough. That'll do it. And, toss again just briefly.
    And now we come to the egg portion of the program, our two coddled eggs. One minute eggs ... not completely raw but they're certainly not done enough to be called cooked. Now, eggs can, in at least the last few years, carry salmonella and IF you happen to get the, say, 1 in 20,000 eggs that are infected and IF you happen to store it badly, say, holding it at the wrong temperature for too long or cooking it too early and leaving it around the house for a couple of days, you could, maybe, get sick. But that's an awful lot of 'ifs'.
    So, toss just until you see this beautiful kind of creamy dressing come together. See that? Lovely. Just toss until you see that. Then we're going to grate on the cheese, about a 1/4 cup of Parmesan. You can use Romano if you like, but I like the tradition so I'm going to go with parm.
    And then, the reason Caesars should exist, the garlic croutons. Hold a little back for the cook to eat in the kitchen later and toss once again. That is a salad that Caesar would be proud of.

Club Caesar Salad

    Built with care, the Caesar Salad is the perfect amalgam of flavors. You've got the crisp sweetness of the lettuce, the saltiness of the cheese, the kind of earthy creaminess of the dressing, its pretty much perfect. But, I think what I like best about it is the making of it. It's not like some recipes that you put together like a bad bookshelf kit. It goes together like a dance, and it's a dance that will definitely leave your guests in the mood for some seriously good eats as well as whatever the evening may bring. See you next time.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010