By Amiel Stanick, Bon Apetit
A crisp, leafy salad is a miraculous thing: It lends satisfying bulk to a light meal and bright balance to a heavy one. It seems like just yesterday chefs of every stripe were obsessing over alt-Caesars, crunchy piles of Little Gem, and reinvented wedges. But this year it’s definitely a family of hardy, pleasantly bitter, multihued lettuces that are having their moment in the salad spotlight. Some varieties, like escarole and radicchio, feel familiar; others, like boutiquey speckled Castelfranco and finger-spindly Tardivo, look fantastically exotic.
One of the biggest selling points of chicories is their hardiness. They taste sturdy, they feel sturdy, meaning you can treat them aggressively, says chef Jake Nemmers of Flora Bar in NYC. They want lots of salt and acid and fat. They are dying to be seasoned. Not only does that mean that chicories play nice with more intense salad elements such as salty cheese, nuts, and fruit, but also that they’ll hold up over the course of a long, lazy meal much better than more delicate lettuces.
Deliciousness aside, chicories are also a win visually, an Instagram-age slam dunk. “They’re just so beautiful,” J.J. Proville, chef of Seattle’s Our Sin. Whether you’re a chef or a home cook, a chicory salad with all those incredible hues of purple and white and green is going to impress. It’s a lot more interesting than iceberg. Proville recommends mixing up different varieties for maximum visual and textural impact.