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Composed salads

Composed salad platter at Imane Moroccan Restaurant

Composed salad platter at Imane Moroccan Restaurant

The French term “salade composée” translates awkwardly into English as “composed salad.” Look it up on Google, and you will alight on a couple of “what the heck is composed salad” posts on food reference blogs and a 20-year-old article by Jacques Pépin — presumably the last food writer who tried to promote the term.

It isn’t as fussy as the word “composed” would lead you to believe. A composed salad brings piles of veggies and whatnot arranged on a plate. Think of our most famous example — the Cobb salad — and you’ve got the idea. Crumbled bacon, cubed chicken, blue cheese crumbles, chopped tomato and avocado chunks line up on a bed of greenery. Diners help themselves to some of each along with some dressing and let the ingredients commingle on the plate.

Frenchies, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the distinction between what you call a “simple salad” and a “composed salad” goes something like this: A simple salad is what we might term a “green salad, ” i.e., a simple toss of lettuce leaves with vinaigrette. It is something that you like to eat toward the end of the meal (a practice that is still viewed as an affectation when we try it here). A composed salad may be the first course of a meal or, in fact, the entire meal. Your most famous example of the latter is surely the salade niçoise — that southern French composition of green beans, potatoes, boiled egg, tomatoes, olives, tuna and anchovies. Done right, it’s a romp on the Riviera — cool, refreshing, salty.

Salade nicoise may be the star, but there are any number of composed salads in the French repertoire and more yet waiting to be invented. They make great late-summer meals and do wonders toward the goal of a clean fridge. That open half-package of bacon that needs to make room for the new one? There’s your first ingredient.

In fact, there are really only two rules for complete success:

  1. You need a platter, not a salad bowl. This sounds obvious, but it can be hard to resist the siren call of that huge wooden bowl when you start chopping salad greens. You can certainly compose all kinds of colorful piles on top of your greenery in the bowl and have that ta-da moment when you bring it to the table. But then comes that moment when you dump in the dressing, give it a toss and serve everyone platefuls of drippy salad amalgam. The pleasure of a composed salad is in the way the ingredients keep their integrity at first before blending.
  2. You need an emulsified dressing. An oily dressing will make the salad seem messy, but one that holds together makes for a nice sauce to drizzle artfully or pass. Some salads want a creamy dressing, like Green Goddess. Others want nothing more than olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and a small spoonful of sugar shaken in a jar until it turns thick. I best like combining olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced shallot and Dijon mustard until it emulsifies.

And that’s it. If you want a bed of lettuce, that’s your choice. I think extra greenery works best when you serve your composed salad as the full meal, with bread on the side. Why? Because there comes that point toward the end — after you’ve appreciated the ripe tomato wedges, sweet green beans and salty anchovy — that you want the drippy mess of those few last bites. Nothing stays composed forever.

Some ideas for a composed salad:

  • Baked salmon, mango cubes, avocado cubes, roasted red pepper, romaine greens, balsamic dressing.
  • Feta cheese wedges, cucumber half-moons, tomato wedges, olives, pickled peppers, olive oil/lemon juice. emulsion with fresh oregano
  • Crumbled bacon, chopped green onion, tomato wedges, Parmesan cheese crumbles, chopped celery, bed of spinach greens, shallot vinaigrette.

16 comments Add your comment


August 22nd, 2011
11:55 am

I didn’t realize that I was raised on composed salads, but I do now. I’ve been eating and creating these compositions all my life. Now I have a name for them. Thanks

Jim R

August 22nd, 2011
1:39 pm

Any ideas of any places in town where one might try such composed delights?


August 22nd, 2011
3:41 pm

One of my favorite summer dinners, especially with a little grilled chicken, and crusty french bread.


August 22nd, 2011
3:57 pm

I’m normally not the Negative Nelly here, but … too fussy for me. :) Dress it, mix it up and give me a bowl.


August 22nd, 2011
5:42 pm

I can’t believe you used “whatnot”.


August 22nd, 2011
6:07 pm

I think composed salads are the opposite of fussy. Each component is simple and delicious and matches well with the others.
Grated beets..Grated Carrots..Celery Root Remoulade..Some butter lettuce and a just more than soft boiled egg. Maybe a few olives.
My favourite composed salad of all time: The Grande Aoili shared by at least 24 people.


August 23rd, 2011
9:55 am

I love a good basic Cobb salad. No weird interpretions of the classic please! Or a salad nicoise if the tuna’s not to dry.


August 23rd, 2011
10:43 am

Yep, I guess the grande aioli does qualify as a salade composee. But you don’t have to round up two dozen buddies — just make it a petite aioli: fewer elements, same great garlic mayo!!!

Great sandwich!

August 23rd, 2011
11:49 am

The Cobb salad at Shorty’s Pizza (Tucker & Toco Hills) is great! It is served in a bowl, not a platter, but it is huge and full of avocado, chicken, bacon, blue cheese, etc. etc.

Nazan Yar

August 27th, 2011
9:24 am

The Stetson chopped salad at two restaurants in Scottsdale, AZ is one of the best one’s I’ve had.

Scott Anderson

August 27th, 2011
9:48 am

Shortys Pizza in Tucker sucks almost as bad as Matthews cafe.

Its funny how its owners always post about Shortys.

Tried it once and will never go back there.

How do you mess up pizza ?>


August 27th, 2011
11:01 am

So it’s like a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it?

Bill Howell

August 27th, 2011
12:18 pm

The Great White Duke with soprosetta and a Cobb Salad at Shorty’s in Tucker is our favorite pizza meal in Atlanta. We’ve shared this treasure with at least 20 people and all of them loved it. It’s hard to say which we enjoy the most, the salad or the pizza. Yum!


August 27th, 2011
12:34 pm

I love salads and this one sounds yummy good!

Edna Lora

August 28th, 2011
2:07 pm

I also love the Shorty’s beautifully composed Cobb salad. Yummmm. All the bits are arranged on top of a bed of romaine lettuce.


August 29th, 2011
5:12 am

And I am glad you said “whatnot”. Refreshing to see real English.