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:
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: