Menu Development
Homemade salad dressings give greens that ‘wow’ factor
By Pasquale “Pat” Bruno, Jr

No question that it’s pretty darn easy to just open a jug, jar or can to take care of your salad dressing needs. However, in this day and age of going artisanal, it’s time to take a look at putting together your own salad dressings. And this is the perfect time to get back to the basics. How cool would it be for your customers to see this blurb on your menu: “All of our salad dressings are made in house”. It signifies natural, fresh, no fillers and no ingredients with a number or a name that is hard to pronounce.

Case in point: My wife drags me off to a particular restaurant simply because of the homemade coleslaw it serves. This very casual restaurant could simply pop open a jar or pack of in-the-back-door coleslaw and call it a day, but it chooses to do something special — and it works.

Across the board, the six most popular salad dressings in many Italian restaurants are ranch, bleu cheese, Italian, Caesar, French, and honey dijon. OK, if you’re thinking that you don’t want to deal with the idea of making a half-dozen salad dressings from scratch, then how about meeting me a little more than half way?

Start off by making four of the more popular dressings: Ranch, bleu cheese, Italian and creamy Caesar. Once you see how easy it is to make these dressings in terms of time and effort, you will be asking me to put together the recipes for more dressings!

Here are some tips about dressing salads:

Don’t drown the greens in dressing. It’s not only costly, but it makes for a bad-tasting salad. More is never better when it comes to dressing a salad.

More people are asking for “dressing on the side,” so invest in some attractive serving dishes or cups (I use mini-souffle cups or ramekins). It’s OK for fast food restaurants to use plastic cups for dressings. But if you are running a nice restaurant, step up to the plate (so to speak).

If your salad dressing is properly made, the idea of adding crushed pepper tableside is not necessary. But a lot of customers seem to enjoy that extra touch, so have some good pepper mills on hand.

Ranch Dressing
Yield: 4 cups (scale up in direct proportion)

1 cup buttermilk
½ cup buttermilk powder
2 cups mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

In a large mixing bowl, whip and combine the buttermilk with the buttermilk powder. Fold in the mayonnaise to combine. Add salt and pepper. Add the parsley and combine. Store covered in a glass or plastic jug or a stainless steel container. Shelf life is about 4 to 5 days.

Bleu cheese dressing 
Yield: 3 cups (scale up in direct proportion)

2 cups plain sour cream
1 cup quality crumbled blue cheese
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine and whip the sour cream with the blue cheese. Add the lemon juice a teaspoon at a time until you get the perfect ranch dressing flavor. A hint of garlic can be added as an option. Store covered in a glass or plastic jug or a stainless steel container. Shelf life is 5 to 7 days.

Italian Dressing
Yield: ½ gallon

It is easier and more accurate when working with liquids (vinegar, olive oil) to weigh instead of measure. The secret to the flavor in this dressing is to get the essence of the garlic into the dressing by lightly crushing the garlic.

½ pound good quality balsamic vinegar
3 ½ pounds extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, bruised (peel and smash gently with a knife)
1/4 ounce freshly ground black pepper
3/4 ounce salt (more to taste if desired)
1 ounce Dijon mustard

In a large non-reactive (non-metal) container (jug or jar), combine the vinegar and the oil. Add the garlic. Let stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Strain out or remove the garlic cloves. Add the pepper, salt, and mustard. Beat to combine. Store in a cool place (do not refrigerate). Shelf life: one week.

Options to consider for this dressing: add dried oregano and dried basil to taste.

Quick and Easy Creamy Caesar Dressing
Yield: 3 cups (scale up in direct proportion)

3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and put through a garlic press
1/2 (scant) cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons anchovy paste
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor or in a large stainless steel bowl, whisk together garlic, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste and cheese until well blended. With motor of food processor running, or whisking constantly, add the oil in a thin stream until it is incorporated. The dressing should have a light, mayonnaise-like consistency. Refrigerate, covered. Shelf life is about 7 days. Remove from cooler about 1 hour before service.

To finish, use crisp, clean, romaine lettuce, lightly chopped. Toss the lettuce with the dressing (to taste) and the croutons. Serve each portion on a chilled salad plate. Garnish with additional Parmesan. Lay two anchovy filets crosswise over the greens. Presto! You’ve got a perfect Caesar salad.

CHEF’S NOTE: Make your own croutons by using day-old bread. Cut into cubes. Lay the croutons out in one layer on a sheet pan. Toast in the oven.

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