If you're in any danger of becoming complacent with your everyday salad, that ends now. April Bloomfield gives us a dressing of unmatched gutsiness because, as she says, "I can't bear being bored."
The co-owner and chef behind New York's gastropub super-trifecta The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory releases her first cookbook A Girl and Her Pig next Tuesday, and with it, her philosophy on all sorts of things. Things like salad and raisin bran, both of which come into play here.
This recipe (one of the first Bloomfield remembers coming up with as a young cook in London) is a fitting snapshot of Bloomfield herself, a chef known as much for her quiet modesty and mindfulness as her $17 hamburgers and mounded chicken liver toasts. She serves the dressing with a fried pig's ear salad.
At first glance, it's a shockingly brash dressing. She uses not just lemon juice, but whole lemon segments, and more mustard than could possibly seem like a good idea. There's half as much Dijon as there is olive oil -- which makes it at least twice as strong most proper French mustard vinaigrettes. There's so much, in fact, that you don't even need to go out of your way to emulsify the dressing to make it substantial and creamy -- the mustard just swirls in and thickens effortlessly.
As you eat it, the punchiness almost leaves you breathless. By the end, you're all but drunk off the racy, surging flavors.
But at the same time, there are addictive little nips of caper and shallot to keep you going, and gentler undercurrents of lemon juice, salt, and sugar. How does she make it all make sense? Surprisingly, the answer is restraint.
It's a theme she returns to throughout the book. And it's perhaps the only way that a chef so famed for daringly rich foods could hold our attention and awe as long as she has, and keep us always coming back for more. We've forgotten many a slider and cupcake, but we'll never forget her.
She considers this salad an homage to Fergus Henderson, who has said of his own signature bone marrow dish, "There should be just enough capers that you end up searching for them, like the raisins in raisin bran." In their minds, every sugar-coated raisin is that much more thrilling, knowing that it could be the last, and leave you with a soggy, lonesome puddle of bran.
It's the same reason you must stop yourself from eating all the cookie dough, and why there's nothing but a path of regret after you've chased down all the best chunks from a pint of Ben & Jerry's.
It's the simple law of diminishing returns. Grown-ups know better than to pack a whole avocado in their salad, lest they compromise the pleasure of finding a single slice in the bottom of the bowl. "It's the difference between giving people what they think they want and giving them what will be truly amazing," Bloomfield explains in the book.
So her approach with this salad is manipulative, almost punishing. She pushes you just to your limits with all that mustard and stinging lemon, then brings you back from the brink with just enough juicy capers and shallots to keep you wanting.
And by serving it with a deep-fried pig's ear, she says "The dressing, with its intense pops of tartness from the lemon segments, makes you want to eat more pig's ear, and its salty cartilage and fat makes you crave more dressing." Of course, you don't have to go with pig ears -- any fatty meats, even cheeses, or avocado (but not too much) would do the trick.
Any way you serve it, she's playing you like a drug dealer pushing speed with sleeping pills. Except here, there's no shame in just saying yes.
2 medium lemons 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (choose one whose flavor you like on its own -- we used Maille) 2 tablespoons drained capers, finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."