By Nigel Spence
Finally, a breath of fresh air coupled with new beginnings, signifying another season of Spring. With renewed energy and vigor, we start to clear out the old and refresh with the new – usually reserved for closets and chest of drawers, but some adopt that in their personal relationships too – Ha!
As a seasoned Foodie though, this is an exhilarating time when the new crop of fruits and vegetables begin to show up in blazing color and splendor. This is where the mind begins to work up thoughts of special dishes; imagining flavors, textures and tastes, mixing and matching ingredients for a riveting adventure in dining.
During this time, I encourage you to take a trip to your local farmer’s market and just browse the in-season line up. Live a little outside of the box and sample a fruit or food you have never eaten before. You might just be surprised at what you have been missing all this time.
My Dad was like that. He loved to be the one in the know of the latest and greatest new thing on the block. His descriptions were always so animated and detailed that before he could even finish his monologue our mouths would be clamoring for a taste of the prized item. It never failed.
I remember the introduction to the fruit UGLI. Left up to looks alone, it lived up to its name and I would certainly have passed over this weird-looking, funny-shaped citrus. But, after my Dad’s embellishment, I was intrigued. I could think of nothing else. I had to take a bite of the plump, juicy segments to experience the unique and distinct flavor he described – and he was absolutely right. This citrus was like no other. Sometimes the simplest ingredient or combination of ingredients creates a one-of-a kind memorable experience.
Following in my dad’s footsteps, I will turn you on to a spring salad that is greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes the simplest recipes turn out to garner the most praise, and that evidenced with this little gem of a salad bowl. The guinea pigs (my closest taster friends at the restaurant who give their unbiased opinions) kept clamoring for more.
The ingredient list is relatively boring, but when combined together in one bowl, it just somehow satisfies the craving for something light, tasty, fresh, briny and perfect with a glass of sparkling wine on a spring afternoon in the backyard, by the pool, or wave watching at the ocean. In full transparency the tasters did enjoy the free sparkling wine just as much or more than the salad.
The strong interest in the dish came as a bit of a surprise at it was not meant to “bowl” anyone over (pun intended), but rather just to be one of a few simple selections of salads I was recipe testing for a beach menu I was contracted to develop, but I quickly realized I was on to something. The stipulation was that the salads had to conform to the gluten-free and paleo lifestyle.
So, I started on the journey of testing using a chiffonade of spring fresh romaine lettuce (fancy name for cutting in leaves in ribbons-are you impressed yet?) which is low cost and readily available, and added a few twists to make it a bit more interesting and fun on the palate. Shredded imitation crab meat and fish roe were the other two fun ingredients, which were then drizzled with a chipotle dressing and garnished with a slice of avocado.
That’s it. That is the big fancy salad bowl. I made at least 5 other salads that evening with much more complex ingredients and flavors and none commanded the “gimme some more” that this one did. That could also mean that the other salads were not that good but let’s take the high road on this one. I think the combination of the spicy dressing with the briny fish roe and the texture of the fresh crispy lettuce leaves makes for a great combination with “noodly” texture of the shredded crabmeat.
Another benefit of this salad is that it can be prepared in large batches ahead of time for a party without loss of freshness, and finished at the last minute. Just wait to toss the dressing when it is about to be served.
BEACHY SALAD BOWL
1 cup fresh Romaine lettuce leaves, chiffonade
(Substitute with Iceberg or other preference)
½ cup shredded imitation Crab meat, shredded
2 tablespoons untreated Masago fish roe, bottled
1 Avocado slice, fresh hand cut
1 tablespoon wicked Chipotle dressing, or to taste (recipe follows)
Toss chiffonade of lettuce with chipotle dressing. Place dressed lettuce in a medium sized bowl in a large mound. Top with shredded imitation crabmeat and then fish roe. Place avocado slice to the side. Serve with sparkling wine!
Any orange or red colored fish roe will work with the dish as long as it has a little crunchiness to the texture and brightens the color palette of the salad. Beware of some brands with a “not so wholesome” ingredient list. Untreated fish roe is best, but not as easy to find.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.