Secrets to the Best Summer Salad For 2016

The most important rule for creating the best summer salad is superior ingredients:

If you make a salad of tomatoes and the tomatoes are mealy, full of water, and have no flavor… then that’s going to be a s**t tomato salad, period.

If you start with the best you will achieve the best.  We get our tomatoes from a local farm here in Southern California, and are some of the best I have ever tasted. With having respect for the perfect tomato being the golden rule, there are other things to keep in mind when crafting a delicious summer salad fit for a king.

best summer salad 2016 final plating

Best Summer Salad | Step 1:  Make the Tomato Confit

This is a fairly simple and easy cooking technique.  In layman’s terms we score an “X” into the top of super ripe Roma tomatoes, boil them quickly for about 30 seconds and then dunk them in ice water to make the skins easy to peel.  This is called “blanching and shocking” and you will see how easy it is to remove the skins.

Scoring an "X" in Tomato

Blanching roma tomatoes

shocking roma tomatoes

We then cut the peeled tomatoes into quarters so we can remove the seeds and pulp.  Once we have done all six tomatoes and we have nice flat and uniform tomato petals, we toss them in a bowl with the powdered sugar, salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and olive oil.

tomato confit ingredients

They are then laid on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and spaced evenly, skinned side up. A thin slice of garlic and sprig of thyme is placed on top of each petal and ready for a preheated oven at 200°F till leathery and concentrated in flavor… roughly 2 hours.

tomato confit prepped

Tomato Confit:

6 ea. roma tomatoes

1 tbs. sherry vinegar

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

½ tbs. powdered sugar

24 thin slices of garlic

24 pieces of thyme

salt and pepper to taste

Best Summer Salad | Step 2: Make the Chive Oil

This is something that can be made a day in advance and kept in the freezer for up to a 2 weeks.  It is extremely easy to make and is one of those additions to a dish that is subtle but absolutely necessary to make the difference between good and great.

Note: Cut your chives before measuring them so they don’t get wrapped up in the blender’s blades.  Also make sure you reserve some raw chives for plating.

Add the chives and grapeseed oil to a vita prep and blend thoroughly on high speed.

chive oil ingredients

Pour contents into a saucepan and heat to 220°F while continually whisking.

chive oil and temperature

Once the temperature has reached 220°F, pull from heat immediately and chill the oil over an ice bath.  Let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour before straining through a coffee filter.

Chive Oil:

4 cups chives (raw)

1 ½ cups grapeseed oil

finished chive oil

Best Summer Salad | Step 3: Turning a Globe Artichoke

When starting this process, it is extremely important to have a very sharp knife and wear latex gloves.  Thistles are naturally tough and fibrous (this is how they protect themselves.)  A dull knife will not allow you to cut through the artichoke properly and you will butcher the product.  Gloves protect your hands from the pointy leaves, and don’t leave your hands tasting awful and bitter for hours.  It is also key to keep a bowl of acidulated water near so they don’t turn brown. We use a mixture of ascorbic acid and halved lemons for rubbing the artichokes, along with paper towels to keep them fully submerged under water.

Start by breaking the leaves in half from smallest to largest, and pulling in a downward direction to the stem using the stem as a handle.  This is done so the majority of the leaves are removed and the choke is exposed and easier to turn.

peeling artichoke leaves

Once the light green leaves are exposed cut of the top portion of the artichoke so it is shaped like a disk.  Then cut off the stems for 4 of the 6 artichokes.

rubbing artichoke with lemon

After the stems have been removed rub them with a halved lemon to stop any browning.  With a sharp paring knife turn the artichoke over as if the stem would be pointing to the sky, and with your left hand turn the artichoke counter clockwise as the paring knife cuts clockwise from right to left.  If you are left handed this will be reversed.

turning a artichoke

After the tough outer layer has been removed simply scoop out the fibrous choke and trim as needed. You should have a perfectly uniform artichoke heart.  Keep fully submerged in the water until ready to cook.

artichokes in acidulated water

Note: It is very important to break the leaves and not pluck out the leaves as this will damage the artichoke and leave it looking awkward.

Best Summer Salad | Step 4: Cooking the Artichokes (save 2 with stems for frying)

This may sound a bit complex but it really isn’t.  After turning 4 artichokes, they are simply placed individually in a bag with 2 oz. of artichoke liquid and cooked in a very low temperature water bath till the artichoke heart is tender.

artichokes sous vide

Note: If you can’t find ascorbic acid use lemon juice.  Although ascorbic works better, lemon is a great substitute.

Sous vide method: Bag each artichoke individually with 2 ounces of artichoke liquid and cook at 185°F for 50 minutes to an hour.

Classical method: If you don’t have a sous vide machine, you can very easily cook them the same way by simmering the artichokes in a pot on low heat with double the amount of artichoke liquid.

Artichoke Liquid:

whisk in a bowl until incorporated

10 oz. mineral water

1 oz. grapeseed oil

2 tsp citric acid or (juice of 2 lemons)

2 tsp diamond kosher salt  

Best Summer Salad | Step 5: Fry the Artichokes

This is extremely easy.  We are basically frying artichokes the same way you fry potato chips.  Simply trim the brown ends of the artichokes that still have stems and shave thinly on a mandolin.

Fry at 325°F until golden brown and crispy.  Immediately drain on to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and liberally season with kosher salt.

artichokes frying in breville smart fryer

We use a Breville smart fryer and grapeseed oil whenever we deep fry.  This machine is perfect for home use by easily adjusting to what you are cooking.  The grapeseed oil imparts a neutral flavor and in my opinion a cleaner fry.

finished fried artichokes

Note:  Deep frying is typically only unhealthy when fried incorrectly.  This machine takes away all the guesswork.

Best Summer Salad | Step 6: Make the Mozzarella

First off if you can’t find Mozzarella curd you can make it yourself using rennet and citric acid, or easily just substitute this salad with a good buffalo mozzarella or burrata cheese to save time.  Whole Foods carries a brand of buratta with the name “Di Stefano” and it is a quality product.  Just make sure you use right away after purchasing because this stuff can spoil quickly.

mozzarella curd ingredients

mozzarella curd

Cut the mozzarella curd into 2 inch by 2 inch chunks and place into a large stainless steel bowl.  Bring the garlic cloves, salt, and basil to just under a rolling boil.  Pour hot water over the curd and begin to slowly stretch with a rubber spatula.  Once incorporated start pulling the cheese out of the water and stretching with both hands.

2 inch chunk mozzarella curd

Stretch until cheese is shiny and pinch off into balls.  Once you have the correct shape that you are looking for, allow to cool at room temp for 20 minutes.  Store the cheese in the cooled left over “whey” liquid.

stretching mozzarella

forming mozzarella

Note: Water will be extremely hot and it’s important to double up on latex gloves.

Mozzarella Cheese:

2 lbs. mozzarella curd

6 cups mineral water

3 ½ tbsp. kosher salt

3 cloves whole garlic (ends trimmed)

4 leaves italian basil

Best Summer Salad | Step 7: Make Banyuls Vinaigrette (By Hand)

The reason we make this recipe by hand compared to a blender is that it produces a silky and looser vinaigrette, which is exactly what we are looking for.

We could easily make this in a blender and it would be faster, easier, and more efficient.  But when made in the blender, the speed of the blades thickens and over emulsifies the oil and vinegar leaving us with a less superior more aerated product.

Note: It is extremely important to use the best quality Banyuls vinegar you can find. Here at EFB we use a French vinegar that’s aged 5 years in oak.  You can see it here at #20 on our chef pantry essentials post.

In a bowl, add vinegar and dijon mustard and whisk until fully incorporated.  While whisking, slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil and season with sea salt and a generous amount of fine black pepper.

making banyuls vinaigrette

Banyuls Vinaigrette:

½ cup banyuls vinegar

¼ cup smooth dijon mustard

1 cup grapeseed oil

salt to taste

2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Best Summer Salad | Step 8: Mince and Wash the Shallots

The reason we mince the shallots and then wash them in water is to remove the strong raw onion flavor.  Simply start by mincing shallots and add a little bit of water so they don’t stick to the knife.  After they are finely minced place them in cheese cloth and wash under cold running water until the water runs clear, roughly 5 minutes.  Strain and reserve for plating.

washed shallots

Once we have finished these steps the hard part is over

Best Summer Salad | Step 9: Plating

All you need to do at this point is cut the ripe Heirloom tomatoes, artichokes, olives, and tomato confit. We then dress the Heirloom tomatoes with good olive oil, salt, and pepper.  The artichokes are dressed separately with the banyuls vinaigrette and the shallots. We then garnish each ingredient individually.

Note: It is important that this is done right before you go to plate and serve this dish.

Finish with green oil, chives, and basil flowers, parsley chiffonade, artichoke chips, and fleur de sel.

The Reason for Stretching the Cheese

Yeah… we know the liquid is hot, but what’s the point of kneading and stretching that cheese curd?

There is a lot of chemistry taking place as we cook food.  Proteins unravel, chemical reactions take place… the list goes on and on.

Basically, when we heat and stretch the cheese curds we elongate a chain of casein proteins.  This process gives the cheese its stringiness and chewiness which is exactly what we look for when making fresh mozzarella.

Want to make your own buratta?

Simply shred some of the stretched mozzarella, mix with heavy cream and that’s the buratta filling.  This is called “stracciatella” in Italian.  Make a separate pouch with more curd, add the filling, and pinch it off to form a ball…this is buratta.

Wine Pairing

Now you have the necessary cooking skills…you might be asking yourself what to drink with this dish?

We usually like to pair this salad with a high acidity, no oak Sauvignon Blanc. This is due to the fact that there is a chemical in the artichokes called cynarin which has a tendency to make wines overly sweet and unpalatable.

If you are looking to learn more about wine varietals and selecting certain grapes… we recommend winefolly.com for advice.  Their knowledge, search tools, and approach to wine is a favorite here at EFB.

Conclusion

Creating the best summer salad is all about organizing your time and multitasking.

Don’t have the time to make fresh mozzarella?

Then substitute with a good buffalo mozzarella or buratta.  There are no rules here at EFB…just make sure you substitute with a good quality cheese and have fun.

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Don’t forget to stop by next week as we will be giving tips and tricks on how to make the best Ice creams, sorbet, and frozen yogurt.

Thanks for stopping by Epic Food Blog!

  • adam

    Excellent Post! So much great information here. I can’t wait to make this dish!