The first warm rains have cracked summer open and, as we contemplate the liquid blue sky and ponder what it means for the weekend’s barbecue, we’re forced to contemplate the vexed issue of raw vegetables.
Salads are generally an after-thought in the British kitchen. The standard offering is a condensation-heavy bag of stalks and razor-edged leaves with a few chopped tomatoes and sliced cucumber shaken through it. This tangle is then dressed with a sour dribble of French Dressing from a crusty bottle with a greasy label that stopped being legible a few years after the best before date ran out.
So horrible is this concoction that, for years, I refused to go near a salad leaf that had the merest hint of a glisten. Salad dressing meant face-puckeringly bitter, viscous pools of what looked like saliva, dribbled over my meal by the demon god of unhappy meals. Discovering that you could shake oil, vinegar, honey, garlic and mustard together and make a salad dressing that actually improves the experience of eating foliage was astonishing.
And then there’s salad cream. It’s generally said to have been invented in 1914 by Heinz, but cream-and-egg-sauced lettuce leaves have decorated British dining room tables for several centuries. Eliza Acton gives a recipe for English Salad Sauce in Modern Cookery For Private Families (published 1845) and Mrs Beeton’s Household Management features a recipe for Salad Cream that’s astonishingly heavy-handed with the vinegar.
But it’s Mrs Beeton’s version that this recipe is based on. I’ve given the quantities for a basic, slightly bland mix that can then be seasoned and spiced with vinegar, cayenne, mustard and pepper to suit your tastebuds. You can dollop it onto your salad or I suspect it’d be rather good for dunking chips in.
Makes enough for several salads
4 medium eggs
75–100ml double cream
½-1 tsp Dijon mustard
1–2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Freshly ground white pepper
1. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the eggs. Gently boil for 10 minutes, then lift out of the water and plunge into a bowl of iced water. Leave to cool, then peel the eggs, halve and scoop out the yolks.
2. Pound the egg yolks to a smooth paste in a pestle and mortar and scrape into a small bowl. Stir in 75ml cream then add ½ tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp vinegar and a small pinch each of white pepper, cayenne and salt. Stir together, taste and add more cream, Dijon, vinegar, pepper, cayenne or salt to make a sauce that suits you.
The salad cream is ready to use straight away and will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, preferably in a sterilised jar.