I’ve long insisted that if you really want to show off, you should learn to make a perfect green salad. For a dish that’s so often an afterthought, a simple pile of vinaigrette-dressed greens is deceptively labor-intensive, and not for the reasons you may think. Before you can even think about dressings, mix-ins, and garnishes, you have to deal with the greens.
Babying your lettuces is the single most important part of salad construction, and also the one you’re most likely to skip. In restaurants that take their salads seriously, everything starts with ice water. First you soak the greens in an ice bath, then you drain them, then you dry them, usually on clean towels. (As the towels get damp, you change them out for dry ones. It’s a whole thing.) This painstaking process serves two very important purposes: The ice water soak perks up the greens so they’re extra crisp and juicy, and the careful drying ensures the dressing actually clings to each leaf (and doesn’t get diluted). All that work, just for the base of a salad that still has multiple other components to prep out.
The good news is that you, a home cook, don’t have to do all that to make a green salad worthy of any fancy restaurant. You just need a little ice and your trusty salad spinner. Here’s how to get started.
How to make a restaurant-quality salad using your salad spinner
Take the basket insert out of your salad spinner and put some ice in the bowl. The exact amount doesn’t really matter; aim for somewhere between a few cubes and a full tray. Next, add your greens, larger pieces of fresh herbs, and thinly-sliced sturdy veggies (like onions, radishes, carrots, celery, and snap peas) to the basket. Put it back in the bowl on top of the ice and add cold water to cover. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then lift the basket out of the bowl, pour out the ice water, and give the whole shebang a really good spin dry. Voilà: You now have a perfectly crisp bowl of greens and veggies, bone-dry and ready to be dressed.
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In addition to making better salad, using your salad spinner in this way makes it a lot easier—and faster—to throw one together. It’s also a great way to get more use out of a bulky, seemingly single-use kitchen implement. (Once I figured out the ice bath technique, I started actually using my salad spinner for the first time in years.) Ultimately, I think you’ll find that a slight tweak to your usual salad prep is all it takes to eat more salad, period—and that’s always a good thing.
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