It was Christmas Eve, Babe.
I parked the car near St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and tore down towards Grafton Street. Last-minute list in hand, I was on a mission. Rounding the corner of George’s Street and Exchequer Street at speed, something caught my eye – a bottle in the window of Dylan McGrath’s Rustic Stone restaurant labelled “Zesty Orange”. Suddenly I was in the restaurant, waiting in line behind glamorous ‘ladies who lunch’, being greeted and shown to their tables. The charming Maitre d’ smiled broadly when I asked him for a bottle of the dressing.
-Do you know what you’re going to do with it? he asked.
-Haven’t a clue, I replied- this is an impulse buy.
-Would you like me to tell you how we serve it here?
So he told me what goes in their Outrageous Orange salad, and finished with a flourish
-If you need a reminder, visit our website, have a look at the salads and the list of ingredients is all there.
We exchanged Season’s Greetings and I went off to finish my shopping.
The day beforehand I had been to the greengrocers in Beaumont Drive-In and knew we were fully provisioned with fresh food. But something else was going on. Oranges had taken over my Christmas preparations. Studded with cloves, I had woven clementines onto the wreath for our front door. Candied, a navel orange went into the pudding. Zested and juiced, they had morphed into cranberry sauce; crystallized, they flavoured and speckled Lebkuchen. Now they were about to headline in the salad I make on Christmas Day for peckish adults who like something light (and low-calorie) to eat while waiting for dinner.
Outrageous Orange salad was declared all-round ‘the nicest salad I’ve ever eaten, anywhere’ and while some of that may be the surprise of being handed a little bowl of freshly dressed, zesty salad at a time when it’s not expected, it was magnificent. Our new Benriner Japanese Mandolin (with accompanying metallic glove) has found its purpose in life, shaving fine, translucent crescents of fennel, and gossamer sheets of cucumber. Caramelised pecans turn a healthy green salad into a guilty pleasure. Pickled carrot sticks are such a surprise to the palate. But the dressing….the Kingmaker….orange juice, lemon juice, sunflower oil, crushed roasted coriander seed, sugar, salt and pepper… pulled it all together.
Make the pickled carrots and caramelised pecans beforehand. The carrots take about 15 minutes to prepare, and an hour or two to cool. Since it’s winter, I just left the covered pot outside the back door for 30 minutes that evening, and then stored them in a covered glass bowl in the fridge. The pecans take about 15 minutes to prepare, and about the same to cool on a table outside the back door. At room temperature they would take longer. (there’s so little refrigerator space available at Christmas that you have to be creative).
1 pound (450 g) carrots, peeled
and cut into 2″(5cm)batons
Pot of lightly salted boiling water
1 1/4 cups (310 ml) water
1 cup (280 ml) cider vinegar
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, lightly-crushed
1 1/2 pickling spice
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
1. Cut the carrots into batons. Bring a medium-sized pot of lightly salted water to a boil. (Use a non-reactive pot)
2. When the water boils, drop the carrots in and simmer for one minute. Pour into a colander and rinse under cold water to stop them over-cooking. Drain thoroughly.
3. In the same pot, heat all ingredients for the brine. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two minutes.
4. Remove from heat and add the carrot batons. Cool to room temperature, then put into a glass bowl. Cover and chill.
Pickled carrot should be made at least one day in advance, and may be refrigerated for up to four weeks, but it won’t last that long!
6 ozs (175g) pecan halves
2 ozs (60g) brown sugar, firmly packed
2 ozs (60) grams butter
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1. Preheat oven to 175°C or 350°F
2. Spread pecans on cookie sheet or other baking pan and toast 5 minutes, stirring often.
3. Combine brown sugar, butter, and maple syrup in medium saucepan over medium heat.
4. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring until sugar dissolves. Allow to darken slightly but be vigilant- it can burn very quickly at this stage
5. Add toasted nuts and stir until coated.
6. Place on buttered foil and put back in oven for 1 to 2 minutes, or until sugar starts to bubble.
8. Store in an airtight tin (in other words, hide them)
RAW SALAD INGREDIENTS
1 large bulb of fennel,shaved
Orange segments. Choose the best oranges you can buy, heavy in the hand, full of juice. I used Navel- at their best at this time of year
1 fat cucumber, sliced into fine sheets on a mandolin ( or a food processor)
Fresh coriander leaves.
Choose your own proportions. Move quickly. Fennel sliced this thin will oxidise and go brown in a jiffy. Don’t assemble until everyone is ready to eat. The wet ingredients such as cucumber, orange and carrot will wilt the rocket and baby spinach and you’ll lose the contrasting textures.
At the last minute, pour over the Zesty Orange dressing and toss- Magnificent.
No wonder the Medici family, godfathers of the Renaissance, had five oranges on their coat of arms!
I’ve made this salad several times over the past week and everybody who’s tasted it has asked for the recipe. It amused me to read yesterday that the Daily Telegraph has predicted pickles as one of the ‘new’ tastes for 2012. We certainly loved the clean, tangy, fresh flavour: once this storm ends and the trawlers go to sea again, I’ll be pickling a lot more.
How can something so salad-y be so satisfying? Dylan McGrath has made a trio of salad dressings which are served in Rustic Stone and are available for purchase in 250g bottles. Trying them all out seems like a useful New Year’s Resolution!
However, my immediate plan is that the next time I enjoy one of his salads, I’ll be one of the ‘ladies who lunch’ and relishing it on his turf at my leisure. It won’t be long!
Beannachtaí na Féile