Recipes and Me

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Arugula Salad with Pan-Seared Goat Cheese Croutons

I see this salad all the time on menus at nice restaurants.  It’s become one of my favorites, and not because I order it much, if ever.  I had a strong craving for this salad one night and started thinking of some of the restaurants that serve it.  I hopped in the car and drove with ambition…to the grocery store.  I figured why pay $13 for a gourmet salad that I knew was so simple to make myself?  Sure it looks fancy but this salad contains a handful of ingredients.  It’s the marriage of those ingredients though, the peppery arugula serving as the base for the creamy warm goat cheese, seared to golden perfection, that makes this salad so exceptional.  I often make the dressing myself because it’s so delicious but you can certainly buy a good champagne vinaigrette at the store and make prep time even shorter.  Once you try this at home you’ll be kicking yourself for “splurging” on it at restaurants. Goat cheese has become a permanent fixture in my kitchen.

Arugula Salad with Pan-Seared Goat Cheese Croutons
Serves 4

10 oz. Arugula, washed and set aside
½ cup panko bread crumbs
5 oz. herbed goat cheese (plain goat cheese is fine but the herbed goat cheese really punches up the flavors of the salad)
2 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon water
½ - 2/3 cup Champagne Vinaigrette (recipe below, scroll to bottom)
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt (can always use table salt, just use half the measurement of kosher salt)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Special Equipment:
Cooling Rack (like you might use to cool baked cookies)
Dental Floss (you’ll just need about 8 inches)

In a small bowl lightly beat the two egg whites together with the ¼ teaspoon of water.  In another small bowl pour the panko bread crumbs.  Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt) and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper to the bread crumbs and mix with your hand.  On a cutting board slice the goat cheese in ½ inch thick medallions using the dental floss.  Dip each medallion in the egg whites and roll in the panko crumbs.  Pat slightly to make sure the crumbs adhere to the goat cheese.  Do this twice for each goat cheese medallion (yes, double dip!).  Set the medallions on the cooling rack and put in the fridge.  Let the medallions chill for 20-30 minutes.  This will let them harden back up and will keep them from melting too much in the sauté pan.

Shortly before you plan to take the goat cheese medallions out of the fridge, prepare the arugula salad.  In a large bowl place the arugula.  Add the chopped walnuts.  Drizzle the champagne vinaigrette over the salad until you’re happy with the amount and then toss to coat completely.  Prepare four salad plates with a portion of the salad and set aside.

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Pan sear the goat cheese medallions 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown on each side.  Don’t sear them too long or the goat cheese will melt too much in the pan.  You still want them to have some structure.  Place the warm goat cheese "croutons" on each of the salads and serve.

Champagne Vinaigrette (Need a shortcut? Buy a good one from the store!):
¾ cup olive oil or vegetable oil
¼ cup champagne vinegar (can also use white wine vinegar if you can’t find CV)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon good honey
2 teaspoons shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

One day I was feeling particularly lazy about whisking a salad dressing I was making, vigorously as it always requires, and out of the corner of my eye my mini food processor caught my attention.  Perfect! One of the best tricks I have learned in the kitchen for making emulsified salad dressings is to throw it in the food processor and let it do the work for you.  The oil, vinegar, and mustard will be perfectly emulsified, and flavor components like garlic and shallots will be divinely amplified. And you can make it earlier in the day if need be and store it in the fridge until dinner time, huge plus.

So after that little blurb, you know what to do.  Literally dump all of the ingredients for the dressing in the food processor and let it rip.  In 10 seconds you’ll have a perfectly mixed dressing.  *If you don’t have a food processor just do it the old fashioned way and whisk away.

This recipe makes a little more than you’ll need for the arugula salad.  I always like to make a little extra to store in the fridge for other salad lunches and dinners over the following few days.