Post #587 Dressing for Dinner

September 1, 2018 at 2:09 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve been reading comics books ever since I could read.  I’ve read all types, but my favorites have always been the superheroes.  Batman and Robin aren’t my favorite, but they’re close to the top.  So when I found this panel while visiting a superhero blog, I knew I had my next blog post.

I’ve written about salads a lot in this blog.  I like salad.  A big salad with a small piece of grilled animal flesh is the perfect meal for me.  And though I’ve included recipes for salad dressings, I’ve never really thought about them or considered them outside of just an adjunct for salad.

Dressings have a long history, as long as there’s been food.  Dressings are simply something on the side to enhance food, to dress it up, if you will.  Sometimes it’s a dipping sauce, sometimes it’s side dish of starchy bits cooked into a casserole, but most often it’s a sauce to drizzle over food.  Dressings come in either sweet or tangy, thick or thin.  Within those parameters, there are hundreds of variations.

I myself prefer the thinner dressings.  In that category, the most popular is the vinaigrette, although it doesn’t always have to use vinegar.  The basic vinaigrette is one part sour, two parts oil, and one part water if desired.  The oil and sour are emulsified and flavorings are added if desired.  The lighter the oil, the lighter the dressing.   The thicker dressings use milk or mayonnaise instead of the oil.  Milk or milk products like cream or yogurt etc. are used as a base for the added flavorings.  Right now, the most widely popular cream dressing in the U.S. is Ranch.  I loathe that stuff.  I don’t even like to have it in the house.

At this point, it’s good to consider how to dress a salad.  Typically, the current standard is to allow each individual to plate their own salad and dress it in whatever manner they choose.  However, some salads come with dressing already added, such as Cesar Salad.  However, there are other salads I make that I put the dressing on before serving because the flavor of the salad depends on the dressing blending over time with the salad.  In those cases, it’s never good to put too much dressing on the salad.  Overdressing a salad is as bad as using spoiled vegetables in a salad.  The way to tell if a salad is overdressed is to toss the dressing in the salad, then pick up a clump with a fork.  If the dressing drips off the fork in a good stream, it’s over dressed.  If you put that salad on a plate with other foods, the dressing will puddle on the plate and it will mix with other flavors, possibly not in a good way.

When choosing a dressing for a salad, it’s important to select flavors that will complement the other foods being served, but particularly the foods in the salad itself.  For instance, if you’re making a taco salad, you’ll want flavors that combine with a Mexican palate.  If the greens in the salad tend to the bitter side, the dressing should counterbalance that by being a little sweet.  If the salad has some very ripe tomatoes in it, a slightly more acid dressing could be used.

I was working at McDonalds as a teenager when I started considering dressings as a whole.  Up to then, the only dressings we had at home were Ranch (ugh!), Catalina, French, and Italian.  They were about all that was available in the grocery stores in the days before the supergiant stores we have now.  But after working at McDs for a while, I got to the point where burgers weren’t cutting it for me, so I’d pile some shredded lettuce in a burger box, add some pickles and tomatoes, and eat a “salad” during my break.  Again, this was in a time where fast food places only had salad fixings to put on burgers, not as a side dish.  One day, I was wondering how to get a dressing out of what was on hand, and I mixed ketchup and dill pickle juice.  It wasn’t too bad.  I found that by adjusting the amount of either component, I could make a sweet thick dressing or a sour think dressing.  Of course, I haven’t tried since then, but I’ve heard other people talk about doing the same thing so it must be okay.  We all lived.

Once, when my ex-wife and I were still in the dating phase, we went out to dinner with her sister.  I only wanted a salad so I ordered a large garden salad and when it came time to select the dressing, I asked if they had any lemon wedges so I could squeeze lemon juice onto the salad.  Lemon juice with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper is a wonderful dressing.  My sister-in-law looked at me like I was crazy.  I told her that it was good, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  When it came time for her to order, she asked if she could have my dressing as well as hers.  She ordered two different dressings and now it was my turn to look are her like she was crazy.  She said she liked to mix them when she could.  My ex watched the two of us and busted up laughing.  My salad was good.

My favorite dressing as a kid was French dressing, that pale orange creamy mess that had a sweet and tangy flavor.  Barring that, I would use Catalina dressing which was red, and basically a tangier version of French.  The whole family loved Italian and we had to buy it in the jumbo bottles.  When I learned that you could make these dressings at home, I undertook to make French dressing, and it turned out to be a vinaigrette that I fell in love with.  So here’s the recipe for that and have fun dressing for dinner.

Classic French Dressing

1 medium shallot, minced finely

2 tablespoons of wine vinegar of any type, red white or rice

1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste

1-2 tsp Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons light vegetable oil, recommend EVOO or Canola

Fresh grated black pepper to taste

In a medium glass bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, and salt until well blended, about two minutes.  Let stand fifteen minutes for flavors to blend.  Whisk in the mustard, then add the oil in VERY small amounts, whisking all the while until oil is completely added and completely emulsified.  It will not thicken like a mayonnaise, but should stay combined.

Method 2:  in a glass jar with tight fitting lid large enough to hold all ingredients with some space left, add shallot, vinegar, and salt.  Close lid tightly and shake vigorously for a minute or so, then allow to stand for fifteen minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and shake vigorously for several minutes until emulsified.

Drizzle onto salad and toss gently until salad is well coated.  You won’t believe how good this fresh dressing tastes.

Optionally, you can add 1-2 tablespoons of ketchup to add sweetness and color.  You can also add fresh garlic if you like, but add only a very little so it doesn’t overpower other flavors.  That also is true for other herbs and spices you might like.

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