There’s no one quite like a big star to give a tired old sauce a last close-up.
Who could ever imagine that salad cream — much loved, yet deeply unfashionable — could enjoy a comeback?
Yet thanks to Nigella Lawson — always one to remind us how much we love comfort food, be it peanut butter, melted chocolate or custard — good old-fashioned salad cream is now centre stage again.
This week, the domestic goddess posted a recipe for a tomato salad, drizzled with generous zig zags — a la the work of artist Jackson Pollock — of her own version of the creamy, tangy, mustardy Heinz salad dressing.
Rose Prince, above, makes her own version of Nigella Lawson’s tomato salad, complete with her homemade salad cream
She called hers a ‘gentle game-changer’, but was promptly mocked for serving up such a basic, amateurish dish.
This very British foodie dispute tickled my curiosity. Is salad cream a dressing we’d all rather forget, or something to revive in the face of snobbery? The truth is it is a bit of both.
Although associated with the Seventies, the earliest version of salad cream was called ‘salad sauce’, a recipe that Victorian cookery writer Eliza Acton included in her 1845 book Modern Cookery For Private Families.
Her version was essentially French dressing — vinaigrette —with added eggs and double cream. Around 70 years later, thanks to the efforts of Heinz, salad cream became a condiment brand in its own right.
Yet thanks to Nigella Lawson — always one to remind us how much we love comfort food, be it peanut butter, melted chocolate or custard — good old-fashioned salad cream is now centre stage again
In 1914, the U.S. company launched its salad cream in the UK after an absurdly long development period of eight years. The commercial version is an emulsion of water, egg, vinegar, vegetable oil and mustard with thickeners and flavourings, but no real cream.
Like ketchup, salad cream targets our love of a mix of sweet and tart flavours, a round-the-mouth hit that can be addictive.
I am of the generation for whom it was an on-the-table standard. I was never a fan, but do not actually dislike it.
Like so many these days — now that we have more choice — I just prefer a simple splash of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon on my raw veggies.
All those decades ago, salad cream entered our daily food vernacular simply because it made the dull, rationed foods of World War II and after more interesting.
Britons remained fond of it in spite of the arrival of real, ready-made vinaigrettes in our supermarkets, as well as extra virgin olive oil.
So fond, in fact, that when Heinz made moves to scrap it in the Nineties, such was the public outcry that questions were asked in Parliament. Gosh, I love the British. We really know what matters . . .
This week, the domestic goddess posted a recipe for a tomato salad, drizzled with generous zig zags — a la the work of artist Jackson Pollock — of her own version of the creamy, tangy, mustardy Heinz salad dressing. She called hers a ‘gentle game-changer’, but was promptly mocked for serving up such a basic, amateurish dish
Having now been immersed — even swimming — in salad cream for a few days, trying home-made recipes and testing the many brands that have risen after Heinz, I now understand why it is so loved.
Nigella’s tomatoes, salad cream and herbs dish triggered some old memories; suddenly I was back in the relatively simple Seventies, when an avocado was deeply exotic.
Nigella’s critics on social media never knew those days, as their snobbery over the tomato recipe reveals, but, much like the TV goddess, I cannot help loving the simplicity of a tomato drenched in a blanket of pungent cream.
Game changer it is not — but forgotten? Never! To help you embrace the nostalgia, here are my recipes . . .
This is my take on Nigella’s recipe. Put half a teaspoon of English mustard powder in a heavy-based saucepan with a heaped tablespoon of plain flour, a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground white pepper.
Add a little of 250ml milk (Nigella advocates full-fat) to make a smooth paste, then set over a low heat. Gradually add the remaining milk, stirring constantly to get a thin, smooth consistency.
While Nigella specifies tarragon vinegar, I don’t have any in the house. Instead, I whisk in a beaten egg and four tablespoons of white wine vinegar, then stir the sauce over the heat until it thickens — it should be the consistency of double cream.
So is it worth the effort of making your own? For those who prefer to avoid additives and commercially produced food, then absolutely. It’s also simple to knock up if you are out of your usual bottle — nearly all the ingredients are store cupboard stalwarts [File photo]
Then I beat in one tablespoon of vegetable oil and a tablespoon of chopped tarragon leaves.
Next, immediately cool the pan by placing it in a bowl of cold water. Continue to whisk for a minute or two, then place the sauce in the fridge to chill.
Apart from a slight wheaty aftertaste from the flour, this is a dead ringer for Heinz salad cream, and it’s truly delicious.
So is it worth the effort of making your own? For those who prefer to avoid additives and commercially produced food, then absolutely.
It’s also simple to knock up if you are out of your usual bottle — nearly all the ingredients are store cupboard stalwarts.
To make Nigella’s tomato salad, halve some beautifully ripe tomatoes, then shake on the salad cream. Scatter over some chopped tarragon and chives, then serve.
First, mash four hard-boiled egg yolks with a fork, making sure to reserve the halved egg whites, and add a tablespoon of water, a teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons of mustard powder and a tablespoon of vinegar [File photo]
A touch of luxury
This is based on Eliza Acton’s original and makes 300ml.
First, mash four hard-boiled egg yolks with a fork, making sure to reserve the halved egg whites, and add a tablespoon of water, a teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons of mustard powder and a tablespoon of vinegar.
Beat until smooth, then add the chopped leaves of a sprig of tarragon and 300ml creme fraiche (or a light version if you prefer it less rich). Season with salt, white pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper, then give it a good stir.
For an elegant dinner party starter, take the reserved egg whites and spoon a dollop of the salad cream into the cavities. Throw some chopped chives over the eggs and serve.
However, don’t expect the salad cream to taste like Heinz. It’s much richer and thicker, and best eaten sparingly.
Guilt free diet take
For this very tangy salad cream with no added fat, it is essential to use Greek-style zero-fat yoghurt or the sauce will be too runny.
Put 300ml thick, fat-free yoghurt in a NutriBullet or other powerful blender with a quarter teaspoon of salt, a pinch of ground white pepper, two teaspoons of English mustard powder, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and the juice of half a lemon.
Add leaves from a sprig of tarragon and blend until smooth.
If the sauce is too thin — it should have the consistency of double cream — add a pinch of xanthan gum powder and stir. Add a little more if necessary.
Serve with crudites for a light appetiser, or as an accompaniment to BBQ chicken.
The yoghurt means this is more tangy and refreshing than regular salad cream — but, thankfully, it’s also guilt-free, so you can eat it in abundance.
Cream for vegans!
This plant-based version will add plenty of protein to your salads to sustain you. Put 250ml water, 125g raw cashew nuts, 50g unsalted pistachio nuts, the juice of two lemons and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar into a powerful blender such as a NutriBullet.
Add two teaspoons of English mustard powder, two tablespoons of sugar, one heaped teaspoon of dried onion flakes, leaves from a sprig of tarragon and a teaspoon of salt.
Leave to soak for one hour to soften the nuts, then blitz until very smooth. If the sauce is too thick, don’t forget that you can add a little water.
This is excellent with boiled new potatoes, young salad leaves or grated root vegetable salads.
While unmistakably nutty and less silky than bottled versions, it is still recognisably salad cream. Very pleasant.