Strangely enough, after my total body meltdown last week and having to miss three days a school (which was a feat because I wanted nothing less than to miss school), I came back to salad station and found my niche: composed salads.
Composed salads are basically the opposite of a regular tossed salad, because the ingredients are arranged around each other with the dressing kept separate. It is a bit impractical because the diner basically has to mix the ingredients themselves, with not much space to move things around in, but hey, anything for aesthetics right?
The first one I made was a duck breast salad. I had never cooked duck before, so this was intriguing to me. And it turned out surprisingly easy: you take duck breast, score the fat (slice criss-crossing lines in it without cutting into the meat), rub some salt and pepper (and spices of choice) into it, then sear it on some oil in a pan until it gets some color, then put it in a 350 degree oven with the fat side up (so the fat soaks down into the meat) for about half and hour. The best thing about this process is that it works for pretty much all similarly-sized meat.
I was really proud to be able to do the arranging myself - most of the time Chef will come around and do the presentation, but I decided to go ahead. Oh and the duck came out just right too!
And just like how the failed caesar salad dressing made me feel like I would never amount to anything culinarily, this salad did just the opposite by infusing me with hope and basically making my day. I feel like the pursuit of creative endeavors necessarily subjects you to this kind of up and down. The lows are damn frustrating, but oh man the highs.
Next I did a turkey breast salad, which was easier because I didn't have to cook the meat. However, it did involve celery root, which I've never worked with (and which I think tastes like crap). Also the vegetable basically looks like an ornery, wrinkly old man who's no longer interested with complying with societal conventions (and it acts this way too, by refusing to be peeled). I resorted to sauteeing it in some of the curry mayonnaise dressing I made, which didn't do much but did something at least.
Then I decided to do a thai beef salad. Because the beef came in a huge hunk, I put it in a 400 degree oven. About 45 minutes later I heard somebody yelling about brisket burning and I run over and it turns out that somebody had turned the oven to 500 degrees and my beef hunk was all charred. I was sad but let the roast sit for a bit (to cool and absorb its own juices), and then sliced it to find that the insides were okay.
Having done duck, turkey and beef, I decided to go for pork next. Similar to the beef/duck, I trimmed the fat and scored it, then rubbed dressing (in this case, orange balsamic vinaigrette) all over it, then stuck it in the oven. However, unlike beef, pork is something you cannot eat rare or anything less than well-done, so I had to check the temperature periodically to make sure it was cooked through. The standard temperature for pork doneness is 145 degrees, but Chef said to go to 150 just to be safe.
Given all of these composed salads, I earned a compliment from Chef as having "an eye for presentation". Niche talent? I think so!