Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Summer is the season for outdoor feasts of all kinds: barbecues, picnics, potlucks and more. You’ve probably got the main event covered, but what to serve on the side? Instead of ho-hum potato salad or limp coleslaw, take a cue from these chefs’ favorites. Warning: They just might steal the show.
For Los Angeles Chef Tal Ronnen, summer entertaining is all about simplicity and ease. “You don’t want the food to take you away from guests,” he explains. One of his favorite make-ahead salads features his favorite summer ingredients, like red and yellow watermelon, cherry tomatoes and Persian cucumbers. The vibrant tri-color medley is dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper and micro basil, then finished with tangy homemade almond ricotta, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The version he serves at his vegan hotspot Crossroads shows off fancy knife work and plating, but Ronnen advises home cooks to simply chop and slice ingredients and serve the salad family-style. Have leftover melon? Make a summery cocktail like Crossroads’ Sailin’ On, which combines muddled watermelon with rum, lime, simple syrup and ice.
Chef Todd Macdonald may be responsible for the gourmet burger menu at Minneapolis’ Red Cow, but when it comes to backyard get-togethers he’s all about summer tomatoes. His go-to side is panzanella, a Tuscan salad that transforms stale bread and tomatoes into a tasty dish. For his version, Macdonald tosses toasted cubes of Rustica bakery’s miche (a French sourdough) with local heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, charred avocado, torn basil and a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. “I love how it combines the ripeness of summer tomatoes and peaches with bread and smoky charred avocado for a very light yet hearty side dish,” he says. Since the bread needs time to soak up the juices, it works perfectly as part of a summer buffet. Macdonald recommends pairing it with a chilled rosé.
Mix in other veggies to create equally vibrant versions of the versatile salad like this one from Giada De Laurentiis.
Charcuterie as Salad
“My favorite summer side dish involves anything I can cook and eat that pairs well with a nice rosé,” says Simone Tong, chef and owner of Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York. Besides being rosé-friendly, Tong says the dish must also be “refreshing, citrusy, salty and crunchy.” Salad fits the bill nicely, but because Tong loves charcuterie, her Yunnan Summer Salad takes inspiration from the cured hams she discovered travelling through the Chinese province of Yunnan. Back in New York, she sources cured ham from Paisanos Meat Market, then tosses it with thinly sliced braised beef tendon, tangy pineapple and crisp red endive before drizzling it with a white miso and rice vinegar emulsion. The salad is garnished with lemony wood sorrel leaf and crushed Want Want rice crackers, a favorite childhood snack of Tong’s that lends the requisite crunch.
Pimped-Out Potato Salad
“I’m a sucker for a cold lobster salad roll with a side of kettle chips,” says Executive Chef Jose Guerrero of Denver’s ViewHouse Eatery, Bar & Rooftop. To transform the classic summer sandwich into an elevated side dish, he dreamt up a chilled seafood and potato salad. It starts with jumbo shrimp that are boiled with local fingerling potatoes and eggs in court bouillon, a spicy broth that adds to the flavor. Once chilled, the trio are tossed with chopped carrots and cucumbers, mixed with aioli and finished with crisp carrots and potato cracklings to up the crunch factor. Guerrero recommends pairing the salad with grilled steak for an inspired take on surf and turf, or serving leftovers tucked into buns for the ultimate summer sandwich.
Try other tricked-out takes on potato salad like this bacon-studded spin from Robert Irvine.
Head Chef Simon Townsend of The Shakespeare in New York is known for turning out classic British fare like bangers and mash, but when the mercury rises as high as the Manhattan skyline, he turns to lighter fare and clean flavors. His sure bet is a bright four-grain salad made from a medley of red quinoa, black quinoa, wheat berries and farrow beans. The dish is simply seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, then finished with chopped cucumber and parsley. “As a side dish, it’s light, but actually stands up on its own due to all the protein in the grains,” Townsend notes. “I would match this with some lemongrass-marinated shrimp cooked over coals, and a California Chardonnay light on the oak.”
Put a different spin on the side by pairing quinoa with other ingredients to create versions like this asparagus and goat cheese option from Bobby Flay.
When he’s not running his St. Louis restaurants, Chef Gerard Craft loves to entertain at home, especially when local farmers’ markets are overflowing with peak-season produce. His scene-stealing sides include his take on a Caprese salad starring ripe peaches, fresh mozzarella and basil; tender radishes sautéed with mint and lemon; and roasted corn sautéed with fennel, charred cherry tomatoes and chile flakes. “These are all dishes that can be made ahead of time and served family-style, which is essential in my opinion. The host wants to have fun, too!” says Craft. “They all also utilize what’s in season… and have that balance of flavor from acidity to sweet and rich to spicy.” He rounds out the spread with shareable mains like spatchcocked chicken or a Fiorentina T-bone steak, plus easy-to-batch cocktails like whiskey-spiked mint lemonade.
Get inspired by even more sides (including a grilled corn salad pictured above) with this Food Network summer gallery.
Watermelon salad photo courtesy of Crossroads and Yunnan summer salad photo courtesy of Tracy Liu