A simple green salad (salade verte in French) is the ideal accompaniment to so many dishes, whether it’s made from just one type of leaf or a mixture of several. It may be simple, but it deserves the same respect as the rest of the meal and I asked veteran chef Damien Pignolet to teach me how to dress a salad perfectly (see video below). Vinegar is more common than lemon in French salad dressings, but when I’m serving a salad alongside something with a lemon sauce I like the synergy of citrus in the dressing; substitute white or red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or verjuice if you like, as all would be used in various parts of France. When making any salad dressing, dissolve the salt in the acid before adding the oil as salt isn’t oil soluble. Instead of mixing the dressing in the bowl, I sometimes shake it in a screw-top jar then refrigerate any leftover in the jar for later use. And there may well be leftover as the idea is to just coat the leaves, not drown them, so if making the dressing that way, add some to the leaves, toss well, then add a little more if needed to completely coat them; there should never be a pool of dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl.
Serves 2 as a side dish
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A French vinaigrette is an emulsification of acid and oil seasoned with salt, pepper and often a little Dijon mustard, which helps hold the emulsification together and adds a piquant note. The acid is often vinegar, made from red or white wine or apple cider; verjuice (unfermented unripe grape juice) is sometimes used as is lemon juice. The oil may be extra virgin olive oil or a nut oil (such as hazelnut or almond) blended with a neutral oil, like grape seed oil, in a ratio of about 1 part nut to 3 parts neutral.
Whatever acid and oil you choose, start by rubbing a large serving bowl with a bruised clove of garlic to perfume it, discarding the debris.
Mix the dressing ingredients directly in the serving bowl starting with 1 part acid to 3 parts oil then tasting and adjusting to suit your taste.
Add leaves that have been washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces. This way the salad can be eaten with just a fork.
Use your hands to gently and thoroughly coat the leaves with the dressing. The idea is to just coat them, not drown them, so there shouldn’t be a any dressing left in the bottom of the serving bowl.