Sunday, 7 July 2013

An English Lettuce Salad

When I was a kid, we used to spend a fair bit of time at my Nan and Granddad’s house in East London. Quite often, if a lot of family were around, there would be some kind of buffet dinner going on. Often a component of this would be a classic English lettuce salad. The assembled adults all seemed to love it. I on the other hand thought it was disgusting. Whiffy hard-boiled eggs, the yolks lined with an unappetising grey ring; eye watering peppery radishes, rasping raw spring onion and just salad in general. Utterly minging. I just didn’t get it. I’d rather have eaten chips and baked beans.

Fast-forward 30 years. A bit older, a bit less finicky and a just a tad less imbecilic, flicking through ‘Second Helpings of Roast Chicken’ by Simon Hopkinson, a recipe for the exact same horror salad of my youth leapt from the page. Instead of retching and scurrying to the kitchen to find comfort in chips and a tin of beans, I was intrigued. It’s a British classic.

The upshot of all this waffling is, I made the salad and as well as being bloody delicious, it confirmed a few truths. First, once again, Simon Hopkinson is a God. Secondly, my Grandparents knew how to put together a salad; I was just too unsophisticated in my tastes to appreciate it. Soz. Finally, homemade salad-cream is absolutely banging, seriously good.

I’ve copied Simon Hopkinson’s recipe out verbatim below, but have a few points of my own to make.

The unappetising grey rings around a yolk are the result of not cooling down your hard-boiled ouefs in cold water. Do that and they won't materialise.

Six hearts of lettuce seems a bit much, I used three and that was plenty for four portions.

The mint really adds something, so I'd say stick a fair bit in, more than a 'few leaves' anyway.

Tarragon vinegar, you’ve either got it stocked locally or you haven’t. If not, stick some tarragon in a bottle of white wine vinegar, et voila, job-jobbed. Even if it’s only a couple of hours before you want to use it, that’ll work.

The salad cream I made, maddeningly split, I was whisking by hand, I couldn’t be arsed to get the blender out, resulting in me breaking out an impromptu, Basil Fawlty ranting impression. If you’ve got a blender, I suggest you employ that. If it does split, add a little sunflower/vegetable oil, a trickle at a time and blitz it, then add a bit more, blitz , repeat, etc. It should eventually re-emulsify and come together again. Sighs, relieved grins and hearty backslaps all round then.

Lastly, I love how Hoppy advises to use your good taste when arranging the salad on a plate. If you’re unfortunate enough to have none, then don’t panic, the finished article may indeed look like a frigging (strangely vegetarian) dog’s dinner, but it’ll still taste amazing anyway.
An English lettuce salad

Serves 4

You’ll need:
6 hard-boiled eggs, separated: the yolks sieved into a bowl, the whites coarsely chopped to add to the salad.

For the salad cream:
2 tsp sugar
salt and cayenne pepper
2 Tsp dry English mustard
1 ½ Tbsp tarragon vinegar
300ml whipping cream
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh tarragon

For the salad:
6 hearts of very fresh round lettuces, separated into leaves, washed and dried.
12 thin, fresh spring onions, trimmed and sliced into 3cm lengths
12 radishes, washed, halved and put into ice-cold water for 30mins, to crisp up
½ a cucumber, peeled and not too thinly sliced
a few leaves of mint, torn to shreds.

To make the dressing, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, seasoning, mustard and vinegar. Add the cream and tarragon and mix thoroughly.

Arrange the ingredients for the salad in a large shallow dish, employing good taste the while, so achieving as a natural a look as possible. Sprinkle over the chopped egg whites and then spoon over the cream dressing in dribbles and swirls.

Serve straight away.


Fiona Beckett said...

Totally felt like you about English salads when I was young. (And the beetroot - bleugh) But homemade salad cream can be a lovely thing. Mint is inspired.

Sharmila said...

Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. LOVED eating this the day after you tweeted about it. Although I'm still finding it hard to fathom how any four people could get through 6 lettuce hearts in one sitting.

Dan said...

Fiona - Beetroot! I'd forgotten how I felt about that when I was a kid. Always seemed to be partnered with mashed potato and cold meats. As for the English lettuce salad, I'm really pleased I gave it another go. I now realise it's rather superb. Agree on the addition of mint, once again, Hoppy is a legend.

Sharmila - I'm really glad you enjoyed this too. It's bloody good, isn't it. Exactly, 6 lettuce hearts is way too much, the only plus side of that is, I had enough leftover to make it again the next night.

Bill King said...

Love home made salad cream, usually make this variant:
2hard boiled eggs
1tbsp soft brown sugar
Pinch of Halen Mon sea salt
1tsp dry mustard
1tbsp cider vinegar
125ml cream.

Sieve the egg yolks into a bowl, add all other ingredients except the whites, mix together.

Chop the egg whites and add some to the dressing, scattering the remainder over the salad.

Danny Kingston said...

This salad reminds me of Sunday afternoon teas spent at my Great-Aunt's house in Gidea Park. Always felt so posh and sophisticated AND she used to have a larder and everything, was always on my best behaviour there.

Must try this out, for the sake of nostalgia and to see if I can remember enjoy enjoying it

Dan said...

Bill King - Thanks for that, I'll give it a go. Love homemade salad cream.

Danny - Ha! You remember the salad but can't remember enjoying it? If that’s the case *strokes chin* your unconscious mind has obviously blocked all memory. As soon as you try it the floodgates will burst and the horror of egg in salad will overwhelm your cracked brain. Yes. You've been warned.

Peter Brissenden said...

My favourite salad is pretty much identical to this but I adore cold new potatoes sliced up and added to mine.

Working in a kitchen a few years ago our house salad always had a small handful of shredded mint and dill. really makes a difference.

Adam said...

I have seen these salads on numerous fold out picnic tables in my youth, and god those radishes were unrealistically hot weren't they? My Nan used to make this dish which was basically raw onion and cucumber slaked in malt vinegar, something I absolutely loved and would go nuts for, yet never seen anyone else do it? I think she probably got it from a Mr's Beeton recipe and adapted it but I loved it, It blew your head clean off mind.

I think salads like these are taken for granted really because people can be snobbish, opting for a more 'posh' Nicoise or panzanela, delish of course but we have such good salads like this it's a shame we dont revere them as much because there seen as plain or ordinary. I know for sure I would miss salads like this if they were suddenly taken away.

Dan said...

Peter - Thanks for the comment. Cold new potatoes, absolutely gorgeous. Shredded Dill also lovely. Perfect summer grub.

Adam - Raw onion and cucumber in malt vinegar? interesting. I've got a copy of Mrs Beeton, I'll have a look and give this a try.

I reckon this particular salad easily stands its own against 'posh' continental salads. You're right, we should definitely revere our classic dishes more because they're actually frigging awesome.