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For chefs, summers are the salad days
By Gao Ceng

Chefs get a chance to give diners a good first impression through their appetizers. Light and healthy salad becomes a primary choice in summer.

The original, simple definition of salad as a complex mix of chopped vegetables and dressing has been modified as salads have become culinary delights showing a chef’s creative, bold and complicated thinking as well as their interpretation of seasonal products.

“There’s really no limit to what can go into a salad. A great salad is fresh, healthy and balanced in flavor,” says Sandy Yoon, chef de cuisine at Mercato.

Nice dressings and diverse textures — such as crunchy, crispy and smooth — also matter, emphasizes Lam Ming Kin, executive chef at Jean Georges Shanghai.

Different combinations of ingredients and dressing make the flavor distinctive, which makes salad one of the most vibrant food categories in the kitchen.

“To create a new recipe, I often take a trip to the market, picking out the fruit and vegetables that are at their peak,” says Yoon from Mercato.

Shanghai Daily takes a look at some latest salad menus in town and find some new concepts and trends. The salad style tends to be more complex and interesting, filled with layers and contrasts in taste.

Ingredients are becoming more diverse, breaking the tradition dominated by greens and vegetables. Seafood, braised belly pork, fried tofu, grilled chicken, sprouts, fruits and nuts are becoming popular.

Spinach and arugula are now as popular as lettuce for the base greens of salads, and not just because they’re nutrient dense. They also are flexible, going well with cheese, bacon and various vegetables.

Avocado is becoming a new star. Chefs utilize its creamy texture and rich flavor to build a nice contrast with crispy and refreshing vegetables and fruit. Its natural sweetness together with some sour fruit, grapefruit especially, create a good balance in flavor.

More fruit is being used as both an ingredient and a substitute for seasonings. Fruit adds flavor and enriches texture. Peaches add sweetness and softness. Green apples lend a crunchy texture and natural, fresh acidity. Berries and cherries build a contrast in color with greens and add sweet and sour tastes.

Nuts, especially walnuts and hazelnuts, act more like final toppings to give salad a crunchy texture and nutty flavor.

Temperature becomes a key element some chefs play around with, as seen with various warm salads. Cold, fresh raw foods together with warm, cooked foods such as seafood, braised meat and slow-poached sous-vide eggs, create an interesting contrast in the mouth.

As for dressing, there’s a distinctive move from heavy cream-based dressings such as French and thousand island to light, oil-based ones like vinaigrette. Both Champagne and Sherry vinaigrette are popular. Wine gives vinaigrette more depth and layers of flavor.

Here are 10 highlights of seasonal salads discovered in local restaurants and hotels.

Pork belly and crispy tofu salad

(58 yuan)

This is a warm salad made in fusion style, mixing Asian ingredients with Western dressing. It features a delightful contrast in flavor and texture. Sous-vide pork belly, tender and rich; deep fried tofu, crispy outside and silky inside; boiled quail eggs with runny yolks and crunchy lettuce are tossed with lemon vinaigrette. The acidity of vinaigrette cuts the fattiness of the pork and adds freshness to each bite.

Pumpkin salad

(58 yuan)

For this salad, contrast matters — soft and crunchy, light and substantial, sweet and sour. Chunks of pumpkin roasted with cumin, mushroom and thick slices of mozzarella cheese are mixed with light and fresh carrot strips and red bell peppers.

All the ingredients are covered with dressing made from olive oil, honey and sherry vinaigrette, which features a balanced and intense sweet-and-sour flavor. The salad is finished with a pinch of roasted pumpkin seeds, which enhances the aroma and enriches the texture.

Venue: Bouquet

Address: 3/F, 627 Huaihai Rd M.

Tel: 6315-0557

Beef, cheese and arugula salad

(138 yuan+15%)

This is a Mediterranean-style salad, simple and light, highlighting the original flavor of the ingredients. The beef made into carpaccio (thinly sliced and served raw) tastes fresh. The lemon cream echoes the beef’s texture and its sour flavor cuts the fattiness of the meat.

Thinly sliced Parmesan cheese gives the meat more flavor and aroma. Arugula cleanses the palate.

Lobster salad

(From 160 yuan+15%)

Alternating layers of black olives, white potatoes, red tomatoes and red-and-white lobster meat together with slices of orange create a clean presentation filled with color contrasts.

To highlight the original sweetness of the lobster meat, the chef simply adds drops of lemon juice as the dressing. The sharp acidity of orange balances the creamy, sweet lobster.

Venue: Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant, Sheraton Shanghai Hongqiao Hotel

Address: 27/F, 5 Zunyi Rd S.

Tel: 6275-8888 ext 4276

Glazed yellowtail, peanuts and mint galangal salad

(258 yuan+15%)

The salad comes from a French chef’s trip to Thailand. It has seared and glazed yellowtail in a sauce made from peanuts, mint, lemongrass and Indonesian galangal, a rhizome in the ginger family.

The chef was inspired when tasting a traditional satay dipped in peanut sauce, finding the rough and pebbled texture of peanuts in the sauce that was not previously part of French food.

The presentation is fresh and colorful. Bronze-colored yellowtail is placed in the middle and surrounded by shiny green cucumber, pink radishes and an assortment of yellow, orange and purple baby carrots, which resembles a garden in the coastal regions of the South of France, where the chef spends much of his time.

Flavorful yellowtail and rich sauce are balanced with sweet, fresh vegetables.

Smoked mackerel filet and liquorice yogurt salad

(178 yuan+15%)

A fancy presentation and sophisticated food style make the dish unique. The filet has a distinctive sashimi texture yet smoky flavor, which is a product of the chef’s precise heat control. The dressing, in which slightly bitter liquorice is infused into creamy sweet and sour yogurt, adds more complexity in flavor.

Sweet and sour cucumber roll, fresh and cooling mint jelly and crispy, thinly sliced black radish balance the creamy filet.

Venue: Jade on 36, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai

Address: 36/F, 33 Fucheng Rd, Pudong

Tel: 6882-8888 ext 6888

Warm seafood salad

(128 yuan+10%)

This dish features a diverse yet harmonious texture, and delicate and balanced flavor.

Scallops, squid, shrimp and octopus, delicately poached in white wine and aromatics, are tossed with a dressing made from lemon, olive oil, minced carrot and shallots.

The dish is topped with large chunks of avocado, some parsley, celery leaves and baby arugula.

Soft, creamy and rich avocado is a highlight, building a nice contrast in flavor with the sharp acidity of the dressing. Carrots in the sauce bring more natural sweetness from the seafood.

Endive and sugar snap pea salad

(68 yuan+10%)

Each bite is highlighted by a balance between the bitter endives and sweet peas, and a contrast between fresh crispy greens and melted, tangy cheese.

Crisp endive leaf is filled with crunchy, thinly sliced sugar snap peas, tossed in Parmesan dressing and topped with black pepper, a dusting of cheese and fresh herbs.

Venue: Mercato

Address: 6/F, 3 Zhongshan Rd E1

Tel: 6321-9922

Steamed shrimp salad

The appealing presentation builds a colorful garden scene. Seasonal fresh greens form the base, which is spread with pinky peeled steamed shrimp, red crystal-like diced tomato and mushroom julienne and tossed with Champagne vinaigrette, beurre blanc (a French-style hot emulsified butter sauce made with a reduction of vinegar and white wine) and truffle dressing. Truffle sauce is aromatic while champagne vinaigrette adds complexity and length to each bite.

The dish is only available in the restaurant’s lunch set menu.

Frisee and goat cheese salad

This salad is made distinctive by complex and balanced flavors and layers of texture. Frisee, a kind of curly endive with a fresh taste and crispy texture, together with soft peaches, are tossed with rich goat cheese dressing and sprinkled with crystallized wasabi, elderflower syrup and fleur de sel (a kind of premium sea salt).

Sweet peaches balance the sour cheese, making the dressing’s taste not so strong. Fleur de sel improves the whole taste. Pistachios add a crunchy and nutty taste to each bite.

This salad is only available as the appetizer in the restaurant’s dinner set menu.

Venue: Jean Georges

Address: 4/F, 3 Zhongshan Rd E1

Tel: 6321-7733

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164