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A composed salad is a salad which is arranged, rather than tossed together. This salad can take a number of forms, from a tower of fresh greens to an artfully arranged sunburst of color on a plate. The end goal is to plate a more formal, elegant looking salad. Many restaurants compose their salads, and home cooks may choose to do so at dinner parties. For an added pretentious twist, call it a salade composee.
When creating a composed salad, only the freshest, highest quality ingredients should be used. All of the individual components of the salad are very much on display, so it is important to use strong salad ingredients to carry the dish. As is the case with any salad, the ingredients should be washed, and cooks usually pick through them to find the most shapely and attractive ingredients as well. When foods are chopped for a composed salad, they may be prepared on a mandoline so that they are evenly sliced.
In addition to general appearance and taste, color is an important aspect of a composed salad. The colors generally complement each other, and they may be arranged in layers or concentric rings in some salads. Others use ingredients with similar colors so that the overall salad has a theme of a single color, with perhaps a splash of golden beets or tomatoes for variation. It is important to be aware of the role of color in a composed salad when putting it together, and cooks should not forget the impact of the dressing on the color.
The dressing on a composed salad may be drizzled on top or served on the side. In the case of drizzled dressings, some chefs create visual variations with cross hatching patterns of different colored dressings, or they make shapes such as hearts, waves, circles, or rings on the edge of the plate with dressing. A squeeze bottle is a very useful tool for this, and it is a good thing to have in a well stocked kitchen anyway. A toothpick will also assist in sculpting the salad and artfully distributing the dressing.
Some home cooks wonder how professional chefs make composed salads with artful towers of ingredients. The answer is a springform ring, which is closed while the salad is assembled and then gently opened and removed, leaving a pillar of salad behind. These rings can also be used to create other architectural dishes, such as layered mashed potatoes, meats, and vegetables.