While corn certainly was the star, the gem salad had a shining moment. When it hit the table, there was silence, then a series of exclamatory "wows" and a "what’s in this?" It didn’t look like much — just gem lettuces alone on a plate. But, the greens burst with acidity, then grassiness, then a pop of fermented-fish euphoria.
The crowd thought it was pure genius, but Mattos explained that it’s not quite so esoteric. He tossed the gems in an anchovy vinaigrette (please, tiny fish haters, give anchovies a chance!), then gradually mixed in dollop after dollop of crème fraîche until it reached a Caesar-like consistency. A drizzle of lemon and white wine vinegar rounded things out. But, the secret ingredient that sent it to the moon and back? Ground dried Louisiana shrimp.
Here on earth, average cooks can’t always find those salad saviors, which Mattos explains are not salted, just dried. So, we tried it with romaine hearts and without the fancy shrimp. Sure, it’s not the same, but it’s still delicious. If you live in Brooklyn, Mermaid Garden sells the southern delicacy (or you can buy it online). Whichever iteration of this salad you choose, one thing's for sure — you need to make it.
For the anchovy vinaigrette:
4 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Cracked black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the salad:
2 oz (about 1/3 cup) Louisiana dried shrimp
4 heads (about 1 1/4 lbs) little gem lettuce (sucrine), separated, washed, and, dried (or light green leaves of romaine hearts, cut into 3-inch pieces)
3 tbsp anchovy vinaigrette
2-3 tbsp crème fraîche
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2-1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1. Make the vinaigrette. Using a chef knife or mortar and pestle, mince the anchovies and garlic into a paste. Transfer the paste to a small bowl or leave in the mortar and whisk in the red wine vinegar. Season with cracked black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and more pepper as needed; set aside.
2. Combine the dried shrimp and a pinch of chili and salt into a food processor. Pulse to roughly chop the shrimp (some will become finely ground); set aside.
3. In a large, wide bowl, toss the gem lettuces with just enough anchovy vinaigrette to coat. Add the crème fraîche, a dollop at a time, until creamy. Mix in the lemon zest. Season the salad with lemon juice, white wine vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Taste, adding more lemon juice, vinegar, or oil until well-balanced. Sprinkle salad with chopped and ground shrimp and toss again. Taste, and season with more shrimp, salt, or chili as needed.
Adapted from Ignacio Mattos of Estela.