Jason LaFrance did an entertaining and very conversational demonstration of salad construction and technique for the Organic Growers School Spring Conference at UNCA on Saturday March 8, 2014.
The session was focused on vegetables that are readily available for winter salads. Chef LaFrance banter with the audience was both refreshing and light and his movement behind the prep table was as a conductor of a symphony of ingredients and techniques. It was a delight to see how a simple and flavorful mix of greens, root vegetables, nuts, fruits, cheese, and dressings could bring a wonderful array of flavor to a winter’s table.
He first started the Sour Cherry Gastrique (a hot mixture of sugar, red wine, and vinegar) and allowed it to simmer until thickened (or lightly coating the backside of a spoon.) Keeping this at a simmer, he then prepared the Pear Salad with Winter Greens so the dressing could be spooned hot (or warm) over the salad. You may want to lightly coat the greens with a bit of olive oil beforehand to keep them from wilting when adding the hot gastrique. He then simmered the pears in a mix of port and orange juice. Cooked on the outside but sweet on the inside, the pears could make a great appetizer in themselves.
The Harvest Salad of roasted root vegetables, arugula, apples, pistachios, cranberries, goat cheese, and chipotle vinaigrette was next and yes, everyone was getting hungry! The beets tasted firm and spicy, the butternut squash lightly sweet as in custard, while the apples were crisp and crunchy. The pistachios and dried cranberries added depth and flavor in each bite. The dressing accompanying this salad, cherry chipotle vinaigrette was lightly drizzled on the salad so as to not overpower the taste of the ingredients.
His last salad was the Pickled Green Beans with Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes and Croutons. The pickled green beans, one of my favorites were Jason’s own version, crisp and spicy, with hot pepper and vinegar. The beans would make your moth pucker for a second and then radiate warmth. The flavors melded into the salad and dressing. Everything is tossed except for the croutons, made from lightly toasted, but not crunchy focaccia bread, which is placed on the salad when serving.
In constructing each salad Jason reminded us to look to the “Depth of Flavor” by “Layering Your Ingredients” so that each bite is unique. Keep the “Crunch and Spicy” aspects of the salad intact rather than mixing everything into blandness. Construct each salad so that you “Eat with your Eyes” and taste with your nose, mouth and imagination!