I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm for salad. While the concept may be great, the execution is often painfully poor. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been utterly disappointed by the quality of a salad in a restaurant.
Italian eateries are often the worst offenders. A sad bowl full of limp lettuce and a few token slices of tomato dressed in poor quality oil and cheap balsamic vinegar is not a salad. Nor is a handful of withered rocket with a few dry shavings of Parmesan cheese hastily thrown over the top.
A generic ‘salad’ is too small to be sustaining in any way on its own and too devoid of character to be an accompaniment. A salad that looks pretty is often even more disappointing because it teases you into thinking that it is going to taste good whereas, in fact, it offers no more than a few pieces of what may as well be crunchy water.
I have a friend who maintains that the most dangerous item in any kebab shop is the salad. Not because it has been sat in dubiously sanitary conditions for an extended period of time or insufficiently washed. No, salad is dangerous because it invariably ends up on the pavement just outside the entrance where it quickly becomes a slippy and genuine health hazard to the inebriated.
However, there are ways to make the salad appealing, even to people like me. Granted, they do raise the calorie content by a few thousand per cent but to transform a foodstuff from supermodel’s choice into just a super choice, one has to make sacrifices.
So, in the spirit of open-minded experimentation, I crafted myself a salad. Using freshly picked rocket as a base seemed like a good start. The sharp peppery punch that rocket offers is a perfect foundation for any number of dishes. A slice of grilled chèvre topped with some roasted cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of reduced balsamic is a personal favourite. But today I wanted something more substantial.
A while back I made some rillons – slow cooked pork belly preserved in its own fat, like a cross between confit and rillettes – which have been sitting happily in the fridge trying to fend off the occasional attack from my good self. Although good cold, these were fried in a pan until the fat began to render. Into this were added four or five new potatoes which had been pre-boiled. Twenty minutes in the oven was all that was needed to half sauté, half roast the potatoes and turn the pork into chewy nuggets of deliciousness.
The rocket wilted slightly as the hot pork and potatoes were placed on top and a few dabs of pesto and a hint of white wine vinegar helped to provide a sharp contrast and cut through the general richness. If salads were more like this, I’d eat them everyday.