Salad Stars

Pat Branning's Spin on Salads

Every now and then in the course of salad making a real star is born. I find there is no serendipitous kitchen technique that leads to a stupendous creation, but I do know that a summer spent by the sea invites culinary exploration. The lovely pastel colors of our seafood-shades of salmon, apricot, coral and opalescent pearl-appeal to the eye as much as the palate. No summer in the Lowcountry is ever complete without casting a shrimp net into our creeks and rivers, wrestling a blue crab off a string into a bucket, braving the high seas or vying for a parking space in front of the local fish market.

Whether from land or sea, these are cherishable salads perfect for any evening meal when cool and elegant fare is in order.

The best dishes are quite often nothing more than the artful combinations of a few top quality ingredients beautifully presented so that their essence shines. Each trip I've taken to one of our local farms or farmers' markets has been inspirational. I come home eager to convey the purity, simplicity and spirit of that food. I use the ripest tomatoes and the freshest produce, then treat them with simplicity and respect. A toss with some good quality olive oil, a great balsamic with a few shallots or Vidalias, freshly ground black pepper and Fleur de Sel and you're ready.

Shrimp, Crab & Bean Salad
(pictured above)

Discover the beloved peas of the South-cow peas, field peas, crowders, black-eyed peas or whatever name you call them. Find them along roadside stands or at local farms and enjoy them in salads all summer long. The beans serve as the base for avocado halves in this recipe filled with delicate lump crabmeat. I garnish the salad with freshly grated lemon zest and boiled shrimp. Just be sure to find a seafood purveyor who carries wild American shrimp-local is even better! Serves 4.

12 large Wild caught shrimp
1Ω cups Fresh shell beans, cooked
Ω  Vidalia onion, chopped fine
Ω  cup Champagne vinaigrette (see recipe below)
8 leaves Basil, cut into chiffonade
Fleur de Sel or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe Avocados, halved, pitted and peeled
1 pound Local lump crabmeat, picked free of cartilage
8 Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Zest of Ω lemon

Cook the shrimp in a pot of boiling water over high heat until they curl and are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Peel and devein. Set aside.

Toss the cooked beans in a bowl with the Vidalia onions, and 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with some of the basil, salt and pepper. Divide among 4 small serving plates. Ladle the avocado halves with the remaining vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Place an avocado half on top of the beans on each plate.

Gently stir the crabmeat with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette being careful not to break up any lumps. Mound into the avocado halves. Top with the basil chiffonade.

Toss shrimp with remaining basil chiffonade and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette and arrange alongside the avocados. Garnish with tomatoes, lemon zest and basil leaves.

Cooking Shrimp: I love to cook shrimp in a combination of vermouth and water, infused with lemon, herbs and spices. A ratio of 2 cups vermouth and 8 cups water works well. Next, I add 4 bay leaves, a lemon (quartered), about 3 teaspoons mustard seeds and a dash of dried red pepper flakes. Bring the water to a full boil before adding shrimp. Cook them over high heat just until opaque in the center. Do not overcook. Shrimp need to be drained immediately, then covered with ice cubes to stop the cooking process. Drain again and use as called for in recipes.

Champagne Vinaigrette 
Yields: Ω cup

The intriguing aroma and flavor of this champagne vinegar makes this a great staple.

Ω Shallot, minced fine       
2 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
6 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil   
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the shallot, champagne vinegar and a good pinch each of salt and pepper and let it macerate for a few minutes in a small bowl.
Whisk in the olive oil in a slow and steady stream. This will keep in the refrigerator for several days.


A Fresh Take on Pickled Shrimp

Often served in a bowl with toothpicks, pickled shrimp may be passed as an hor d'oeuvre or skewered on sturdy bamboo picks and served on little plates. They're also delicious served on top of buttery lettuce to create a lovely salad.


1 pound Shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
Ω tsp Celery seeds
1 cup Extra virgin olive oil
? cup Fresh lemon juice
º cup Capers
º cup Flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Sea salt
Ω tsp Crushed red chili flakes
2 cloves Garlic, minced
10 Dried bay leaves
1 medium Sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced lengthwise


Using a 4-quart stockpot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil and add the Old Bay. Add shrimp and bring to a second boil. Shrimp should be pink after about 2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Refrigerate.


In a bowl, pour in the oil and stir in the celery seeds, lemon juice, capers, parsley, sea salt, crushed red chili flakes, garlic, and bay leaves. In a 1-quart glass jar, layer shrimp and onions. Pour oil mixture over the shrimp and onions. Cover with a lid and allow to marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Yields: about 6 cups.

Seared Ahi Tuna Salad
with Creamy Wasabi

What makes this dish irresistable is the sparkling clean, fresh-from-the-sea flavor of the tuna, which is also meaty, rich and fully satisfying. Serve this ice cold with the crunchy contrast of Napa cabbage drizzled with creamy wasabi dressing. I like to prepare the tuna well in advance of dinner because I love to serve it ice cold. However, it is perfectly fine to prepare and serve it right away.

1 head Napa cabbage, sliced
Ω pound Fresh Ahi tuna
Grape seed oil
Salt and pepper
Several Tbsp Sesame seeds
Ω cup Roasted wasabi peas

For the dressing
Ω cup Mayonnaise
º cup Rice vinegar
2Ω Tbsp Wasabi powder
1Ω tsp Asian sesame oil
1Ω Tbsp Water
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat a skillet (large enough to accommodate the tuna steak) just covering the bottom of pan with grape seed oil. Lightly coat the fish with grape seed oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Next, coat the fish with sesame seeds pressing them into the fish. Once the oil is hot enough to smoke, add the fish. Cook about 2 minutes per side and promptly remove to a clean plate. Allow it to cool, then wrap and place in the refrigerator until time to serve.

To prepare the wasabi, whisk the mayonnaise, wasabi and rice vinegar. Add the sesame oil, water, salt and pepper, while continuing to whisk. Now it's time to shred the Napa cabbage. On chilled plates, pile the cabbage to make a nest for the tuna. Using a sharp knife, slice the tuna very thin and place around on the sliced cabbage. Sprinkle with the roasted wasabi peas and drizzle with creamy wasabi dressing. Serve at once. Yields: 4 servings.

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