Now, I’ll admit to a certain degree of...umm...high-handedness when it comes to kitchen techniques, and my technique is to tear the lettuce into slightly-larger-than-bite-sized pieces, one leaf at a time. Takes me forever, but it looks great. I know, I know, it’s a miracle that he wants to help at all when the Kitchen Goddess is at the helm. But let’s not kid ourselves – when you’ve been in charge of the meals for 35 years, you develop certain – shall we say preferences? – about preparing the food.
Having staked myself out on this topic, I decided to see if there were any sources to back me up. It turns out that those brown edges you can get on lettuce pieces develop faster if you cut the lettuce with a metal knife. Which is why they sell those mostly-green plastic “lettuce knives”: to reduce the bruising or browning. So as long as you’ll be serving the salad immediately after assembling it, the salad police won’t come after you if you cut your lettuce.
I WILL SAY that my research shows that tearing the lettuce is still better. The leaf cells hold the water that makes the lettuce crisp. The knife cuts through the cells, whereas tearing causes breaks along the natural boundaries between cells, so the leaves stay crisp longer. One clever source I found compared the lettuce leaf to a piece of bubble wrap, which works conceptually but not in practice, as I’ve never been able to tear bubble wrap without destroying it.
But the Kitchen Goddess, if she knows what’s good for her, will back off and let her husband cut the lettuce. Otherwise, she may end up alone and lonely in the kitchen, standing on her principles while she tears the damn lettuce.
Other bits of salad savvy:
1. Go easy on the vinegar. If you’ve splurged on a nice olive oil, you’ll just hide that good flavor. Several years ago, I spent a blissful week eating and writing in Tuscany, at a castle called Spannocchia. The castle staff grow all their own vegetables, and salads were served with nothing but herbs and olive oil, and the occasional lemon wedge. They were the best-tasting salads I’ve ever eaten.
2. Dry your lettuce with a couple of paper towels before you dress it. Water on the leaves keeps the oil from adhering to the greens, and your carefully made dressing will slip down to the bottom of the bowl.
3. Don’t dress the salad until you are ready to serve it. Wilting begins the minute the greens come in contact with the oil, so you want to delay that as long as possible.
4. When it comes to the dressing, start small, less is more, a little goes a long way – choose your cliché. But you’ll almost always need less than you think, so it’s better to pour, taste, and add more if necessary than it is to add too much then pretend to your guests that it’s the way you meant it to be.
5. Serve on cold salad plates. Stick them in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before putting salad on them. The chill helps to keep the greens crisp.
Parsley Shallot Vinaigrette
1 teaspoon shallots, minced
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped fine
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon mild honey (optional)
6 tablespoons olive oil
a few fresh grinds of pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together the first seven ingredients (shallots through honey) until well combined. Add the olive oil in a thin stream into the bowl, whisking vigorously all the while. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add pepper to taste and stir well.