Well dressed: Mark Hix's sensational, substantial, summery salads - Features - Food + Drink - The Independent

Well dressed: Mark Hix's sensational, substantial, summery salads

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It is now the season when main-course summery salads really come into their own. There are so many interesting leaves and vegetables around at this time of the year and it's dead-easy to impress your lunch or dinner guests with a simple, sophisticated main-course salad instead of a predictable main-course meat or fish dish. You may be sceptical about whether or not your guests are going to be happy with salad as a main course, but it's all about getting the balance right – so, for example, you could start your dinner party with a risotto or pasta dish and then it would be perfect to follow with one of these salads.

I've given you four simple, easy-to-execute salads with two main ingredients here, but you could easily add another seasonal ingredient such as peas or broad beans or green beans.

Duck breast and spring pea salad

Serves 4

The sweetness of freshly picked spring peas are perfect with duck. If you grow your own peas, then a few pea tendrils also make a good addition to the salad. You can either buy whole ducks for this dish and use the legs another time, slow-cooked like a confit, or you could use both breast and slow-cooked duck in the salad and that way you will get 4 servings out of one bird. Or you could just buy duck breasts, it's up to you.

4 duck breasts weighing about 200g each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 handfuls of pea shoots or a mixture of pea shoots and other small salad leaves, washed and dried
100g podded weight of peas, cooked

For the dressing

The grated zest and juice of 1 orange
tbsp cider vinegar
1tsp grain mustard
4tbsp rapeseed oil

Heat a heavy frying pan on a medium heat, season the duck breasts and cook for 3-4 minutes with the skin down, draining off any excess fat during cooking, then turn the breasts over and cook for another 3-4 minutes, keeping them nice and pink. Meanwhile, make the dressing: simmer the orange zest and juice in a pan until you have about a tablespoon, then transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Whisk in the mustard, vinegar and oil and season to taste. To serve, slice the duck breasts thinly and arrange on serving plates with the leaves. Mix the peas with the dressing and spoon over the salad.

Chicken and prawn salad

Serves 4

This is a classic "surf and turf" salad in which you could use up leftovers from an unfinished roast chicken or you can just grill some chicken breasts or thighs. You can use pre-cooked or raw prawns for this and just griddle or pan-fry them.

2 large free-range chicken breasts
24 cooked medium to large prawns, peeled
2-3 handfuls of small, tasty salad leaves, washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

1tbsp white wine vinegar
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
2tbsp olive oil

Preheat a ribbed griddle pan or heavy frying pan. Season the chicken breasts and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, then leave to rest for a couple of minutes. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season. To serve, cut the chicken into 6 or 7 slices and arrange on serving plates with the leaves and prawns; spoon over the dressing.

Surf and turf salad

Serves 4

There are various cuts you can use for this luxurious dish, from hanger or onglet to rib-eye or sirloin. You could even use bavette or flank. If you really want to push the boat out, you may want to use fillet; if so, try asking your butcher to sell you some fillet tails which should be cheaper than the centre of the fillet which is where the steaks are cut from.

You could also substitute prawns for lobster if you haven't got a good source of live lobsters.

2 lobsters weighing about 500-600g each, cooked
2 x 200-250g steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
A couple of handfuls of small tasty salad leaves, washed and dried

For the dressing

1tbsp white wine vinegar
2tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp peanut or corn oil
2tbsp olive oil

Remove all of the meat from the lobster claws and tails and cut into bite-size pieces. Reserve the shells for a sauce or a soup. Preheat a ribbed griddle pan, brush the steaks with oil and season. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side depending on their thickness and keeping them nice and rare, then leave to rest on a plate. Whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing; season. To serve, slice the steak into cm slices and mix any juices with the dressing. Arrange the steak, lobster and leaves on serving plates; spoon the dressing over.

Asparagus and bacon salad

Serves 4

It's a good idea to make the most of our short asparagus season and a salad like this with chunks of crisp bacon makes a great main course. Try to buy a piece of streaky bacon so that you can cut it down into big crouton-like chunks. If not, use some pancetta from a good Italian deli.

350-400g piece of smoked or unsmoked streaky bacon
1-2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
300-350g asparagus, ends removed
3-4 handfuls of small, tasty salad leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

2tbsp grain mustard
1tbsp clear honey
1tbsp cider vinegar
4tbsp rapeseed oil

Put the bacon in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour; remove from the water and leave to cool. Once cool, cut into 2cm squares, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy or non-stick frying pan and cook the bacon on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, turning the pieces as they are cooking, until crisp. Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, then drain. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing; season to taste. To serve, cut the asparagus in half on the angle and arrange on serving plates with the leaves and bacon and spoon over the dressing.

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