The Food Almanac: Monday, July 15, 2013

It's National Entree Salad Day!

Food Calendar
It is National Entree Salad Day. Few menu categories have undergone as much change over the years as this one has. Look back just ten or twenty years, and you find large salads very different from today's. In the 1970s, the universal entree salad--served in every restaurant with such a thing--was the "chef's salad." That was a tossing of lettuce and tomatoes with ham and cheese in either chunks or slices. How anyone ate one of these--especially with the thick, mayonnaise-clogged blue cheese and thousand-island dressings of the time--is hard to imagine.

Things are lighter now. Seafood salads became popular in the 1980s, piles of greens with fried or boiled shrimp, fried oysters, or crawfish tails. The best (and most expensive) of these are riddled with crabmeat. The trend lately has been to top big salads with big pucks of protein: seared tuna, crab cakes, grilled chicken breasts, and fried goat cheese, to name three.

And the greens have lightened up. The spring mix salad of baby greens from bags is everywhere. On the other hand, the last few years brought the return of the nearly-extinct wedge salad, usually covered with blue cheese dressing and bacon crumbles. This retro chunk of iceberg lettuce finds a new home every day.

Gourmet Gazetteer 
Greensboro forms a triangle of major cities with Raleigh and Charlotte in the center of North Carolina. With Winston-Salem and High Point, it's in another triangle whose population is 1.6 million people. It's named for Nathanael Greene, a major general in the American Revolution. It was founded as a seat of local government in 1808, and has been a center of transportation and textile manufacturing ever since. The city has hundreds of restaurants. The one closest to the center of town is Young's Corner Cafe. Try the greens.

Edible Dictionary
salad bar, n.--A self-service cold buffet at which restaurant diners help themselves to an assortment of greens, vegetables, garnishes, and sauces to make their own salads. According to John Mariani's Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, the salad bar was created in Chicago by Rich Melman and Jerry Orzoff at a restaurant called R.J. Grunts. The idea so excited customers that the concept was almost immediately taken up by mid-range restaurants nationwide, particularly in the chain dinnerhouses. For awhile, it looked as if the salad bar would become a universal feature of American restaurants. But its popularity waned in the late 1980s. Now they're more often found in small, independent restaurants, particularly in small towns.

Deft Dining Rule #422
Even though it may look nicer and give the illusion of control to the eater, no salad with dressing in plastic cups on the side is half as good as the same salad tossed with the dressing.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Here's how to make a perfect iceberg wedge salad quickly and elegantly. Remove one layer of leaves from the outside. Bang the stem end of the iceberg head on the counter. Then grab the stem and twist it out. Run cold water through the resulting hole, and shake out the excess. Cut in quarters and add the dressing. You're welcome.

The Saints 
This is St. Swithun's Day. (It's also spelled "Swithin.") Here's the lore: 

Saint Swithun's day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
Saint Swithun's day, if thou be fair,
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair. 

This started in 871, when monks in England transferred the saint's remains to Canterbury. It rained that day, and for the next forty. We are not expecting rain in New Orleans today, which is roasting right now.

Annals Of Insectivory
Today in 2000, the Chinese government revealed that it sent three-quarters of a million chickens and ducks to the Xinjiang province, after training the birds to attack insects on the sound of a whistle. The area was plagued with locusts. After they dispatched locusts for two months, the ducks weighed over two kilos, and brought good prices in the food markets. (This sounds like a joke, but it's all true. See this story.)

Food And Drink Namesakes
Classical guitarist Julian Bream came to Earth today in 1933. . . Philip "Fish" Fisher was born today in 1967. He's the drummer with the rock group Fishbone. . . Film and television actor Stan Kirsch took his first cue today in 1968. . . British newspaper editor Sir Albert Lamb was born today in 1929. . . Kid Chocolate, "The Cuban Bon Bon," won the World Junior Lightweight boxing title, the first Cuban to win a world boxing title. Incredibly (for the purposes of this feature), he beat another guy with a food name: Benny Bass.

Words To Eat By
"To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist - the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil one must mix with one's vinegar."--Oscar Wilde.


Words To Drink By
"I drink too much. The last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it."--Rodney Dangerfield.