Following the dodo bird, presentation salads have wandered down the road to extinction. For the gelatin based creations I will mostly agree that this is a good thing, although a recent tryst with panna cotta made me re-consider my general reticence towards gelatin based goods. This has been a stupid prejudice, because gelatin is actually fairly cool and magical, I will now admit.
But showpiece, nearly sculptural salads have been in the fashion holding area, patiently awaiting their re-emergence. And while cleverly plated salads have never died, the cleverly assembled salads seem to be trapped in the era of the first color cookbooks. Ah, but they are around. This example is merely a layered salad, frosted generously with a creamy dressing.
I dragged it, kicking and screaming from the vaults because I needed to make a “birthday cake” for my non-sweet-eating mother a few years ago. It is layered and festive looking. You can stick a candle in the top. Bingo! Consider it a vertical Cobb salad with a kicky dressing, or a lovely tribute presented on a special occasion. The absolute beauty of it is found in the fact that you are supposed to make it 24 hours in advance. Although it is not strictly necessary, wouldn’t you agree that it is always an appreciated option? Also, the prep, while simple, is time-consuming. This is in no way a last minute affair.
The lettuce is Romaine, hardy enough to sit a day with the rest of the ingredients and remain crunchy and fresh. It is heavy on the proteins, with eggs, bacon and chopped chicken. And one of the layers is frozen peas which are perfectly cool and defrosted on day two. This is where you will need to modify if you are serving it in the near-term. Nobody wants a bite full of frozen peas. I really like this subtle horseradish dressing. It is sweet and it has a little kick to it. But, I suppose any thick dressing would work. Blue cheese comes to mind.
You will need a large glass straight-sided bowl for this. The pictured trifle bowl is ideal, and I bought this one at Wal-Mart for a song. And, you must go behind the scene just before serving, transfer the layered salad into a giant mixing bowl to toss it, and then return it to it’s lovely glass serving bowl. Don’t try to toss it in the glass bowl. The contents are packed in and there is no avoiding overflow and chaos if you try. I have tested this theory for you, believe me.
1-¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
3 Tablespoons prepared horseradish (not the root, the bottled creamy sauce)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
2-3 heads Romaine lettuce, rinsed, dried, and cut into 1/2″ chunks
16 ounces frozen petite sweet peas
1 pound bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
5 hard-boiled eggs, chilled and chopped
1-½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
½ medium red onion sliced, or equivalent volume sliced green onions
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Have all of the above ingredients prepared and ready to go.
1. Layer half the lettuce into the bottom of a flat sided glass container. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
2. Spread the eggs on top of the lettuce and lightly season with salt and pepper.
3. Spread the frozen green peas on top of the eggs.
4. Spread the remaining romaine lettuce on top of the peas. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
5. Spread the chicken on top of the lettuce.
6. Spread the bacon on top of the chicken.
7. Spread the onion on top of the bacon.
8. Spread the cheese on top of the onion.
9. Spread the dressing on top of the cheese as though you were layering a cake.
10. Sprinkle a few onion pieces on top for garnish.
11. Cover with plastic wrap and place the salad in the refrigerator overnight.
Just before putting out the bowl for presentation, sprinkle a little paprika on the top for color. And, just before serving, remove the bowl to the kitchen to toss the salad in a larger container. Replace the salad in the bowl to serve.
Prepared horseradish can be found in the deli and in the condiment aisle at the grocery store.
This can not only be made in advance, but you can prep all of the individual ingredients in plastic bags and take them in a cooler to your destination if you are traveling. Then you can assemble a rather brilliant salad on the run.
Finally, this amount of dressing is rather generous. If you like a lightly dressed salad, consider holding back a little on the “icing” and adding more, if needed, when you toss the salad.