What it is: A salad of fresh raw apples, celery and walnuts, traditionally dressed with mayonnaise and served over lettuce. Because it is so simple, it pays to use the best ingredients.
At Petterino’s, Chef Francis Brennan makes the salad with heirloom varieties of apples that would have been in cultivation when the salad was invented in the 19th century. (The salad is part of Petterino’s $19.95 “7 after 7″ three-course prix fixe, served daily after 7 p.m. This may be the best bargain in the Loop — it includes free valet parking!)
Where it comes from: The Waldorf of the salad’s name was New York City’s first Waldorf Hotel, which opened in 1893 with Oscar Tschirky as maitre d’hotel. That title isn’t one we see much anymore, but it combines the job of host, headwaiter and dining-room manager, and in those days a maitre d’ often attended to such culinary tasks as boning fish tableside and mixing salads. Tschirky is said to have created Waldorf salad for a supper attended by some 1,500 society types.
The original recipe, from The Cook Book by Oscar of the Waldorf, 1896:
“Peel two raw apples and cut them into small pieces, say about half an inch square, also cut some celery the same way, and mix it with the apple. Be very careful not to let any seeds of the apples be mixed with it. The salad must be dressed with a good mayonnaise.”
An immense success, Waldorf salad was immediately copied by other restaurants. As the salad gained popularity at other dining spots, such as Rector’s, the nuts were added; George Rector included them in his recipe in the 1928 The Rector Cook Book.
By 1934, Waldorf salad was such a symbol of good things that Cole Porter listed it in his song “You’re the Top.”
What to do with it: Typically an appetizer salad, Waldorf salad can also make a light lunch. Sometimes you see it with added ingredients, like roast chicken or turkey.
Petterino’s heirloom-apple Waldorf salad
Chef Francis Brennan
“The decision to do the Waldorf was a no brainer for a couple of reasons,” says Brennan. “We are well known for doing a several things; American classics and salads are two of them,” Brennan says. “Peter Klein (who owns and operates Seedlings Farm in Michigan) is currently selling seven different varieties of heirloom apples. When staring at this bounty of product it was clear that I was going to make a lighter version of the classic Waldorf salad, using the many different apples.”
A mandolin or the slicing blade of a food processor helps in cutting the fine slices of apple.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Salt and ground red pepper to taste
2 ounces walnuts
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 celery root
4 apples in different varieties, preferably heirloom
1 celery heart
Bibb lettuce leaves
Small bunch of seedless red grapes, cut in half
Watercress for garnish
Candy the walnuts: Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and boil till the sugar has dissolved. Season with salt and red pepper. Steep the walnuts in the syrup for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Drain the nuts and place on a baking sheet and bake 35 minutes. Let cool and store airtight.
Make the dressing: Whisk together the egg yolk, yogurt, mustard, lemon juice and vinegar in a medium bowl. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly, till emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
Prepare the salad: Peel the celery root and cut into 3-inch fine matchsticks. Cut the apple sides off the core. Cut the apple sides into 1/4-inch lengthwise slices. Slice the celery heart as thin as possible. Keep in ice water until ready to use, then drain and pat dry.
Arrange the lettuce leaves in a bowl or plate. Combine the celery root, apples and celery heart in a bowl and toss with the dressing; place into the center of the lettuce leaves. Garnish with the candied walnuts, halved grapes, and watercress. 4 to 6 servings.