This is part one of two - today's post on salad components will be followed by part two tomorrow on dressings.
Don’t have too many components - dressed salad leaves plus three other items is often enough. Think of the classic goats’ cheese salad of southwest France: rounds of grilled goats cheese put straight on salad leaves and walnuts with a walnut oil dressing.
Aim for some contrast in flavours and textures – salt, sweet, sharp, creamy, bitter; protein, vegetable
Be aware of flavours that will overwhelm everything else - slivers of grapefuit or orange are a hard trick to pull off; the piquancy of some blue cheeses needs to be remembered.
Take care how you combine like with like. It’s easy to end up with a lot of salty ingredients – e.g. anchovies, olives and lardons (do you really need lardons as well as anchovies?).
How it works in practice:
Choose a protein or two complementary ones, such as goats’ cheese and walnuts, chicken livers and lardons or chorizo and prawns.
Choose a contrasting vegetable or fruit, for example pomegranate seeds for smoked duck breast or grilled, marinated red peppers for lardons and chicken livers.
Choose an appropriate dressing – often this will be a straightforward vinaigrette, but walnut oil is an obvious candidate when walnuts are an ingredient, sherry vinegar is good with chicken livers and herb vinegars such as tarragon go with fish.
Now think about whether you need anything else. Perhaps something with a bit of crunch - cubes of bread quickly fried in olive oil; something else fresh and green, such as slim green beans; or something to give it a bit more substance, such as tiny new potatoes or quails’ eggs.
Smoked duck breast, thinly sliced: good with balsamic vinegar dressing, pomegranate seeds, walnuts.
Lardons or pancetta, crisp, but not frizzled: go with almost anything.
Chicken livers, serve warm after frying in oil so that they’re pink but not bloody: try tossing them with lardons and halved seedless grapes, or with olives and a sherry vinegar dressing.
Chorizo, in diagonal slices: good with prawns, peppers, tomatoes.
Black pudding, sliced and fried: try with potatoes, lardons, green beans.
Anchovies: with olives, potatoes, beans, tomatoes (fresh or dried), tuna.
Tuna, salmon, red mullet; with green beans, new potatoes, quails eggs, sun-dried tomatoes or red peppers.
Prawns: try with chorizo, artichokes, sundried peppers.
Smoked fish e.g. trout: good with quails eggs, potatoes, green beans.
Quails’ eggs, boiled half-way between soft and hard: serve them with lardons for a new take on bacon and eggs; also good with marinated artichokes, new potatoes and salmon.
Walnuts, lightly toasted if they’ve come from a packet: good with blue cheese and parmesan, as well as goats’ cheese and meaty things.
Pinenuts and Marcona almonds, lightly toasted if you wish: as for walnuts.
Artichokes, preserved in olive oil: try with lardons/pancetta, quails’ eggs, olives, anchovies
Avocado: good with pancetta, chicken (smoked or not) and tomatoes.
Sundried or roast peppers (DIY or ready prepared in oil), slow-roast tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes: good with meaty things such as chorizo, lardons and chicken livers, as well as with olives, peppers, potatoes, parmesan and feta.
Fresh baby plum tomatoes: add when you need something fresh, crunchy, bright and sweet.
Green beans, boiled so that they’re cooked but not floppy: good for contrast and versatile with fish meat and other vegetables.
Tiny new potatoes, boiled: add to make a more substantial salad.
Goats’ cheese; blue cheese, crumbled or cubed; parmesan, shavings: try with walnuts, lardons, artichokes, new potatoes.
Feta, crumbled or cubed: with olives, artichokes, anchovies.
Croutons, cubes of bread fried in olive or walnut oil: use to give crunch and a bit of extra substance.
Pomegranate seeds: sprinkle over smoked duck breast or smoked venison salads.
Fresh herbs – parsley, dill, coriander, basil: to liven up plain salad leaves.
Flowers - rocket flowers and heartsease: use for flavour and appearance.
Don't forget to look out for part two of DIY Salades Composées tomorrow!