Named for the Park Avenue hotel where it first saw the light of day, rather than, as Basil Fawlty would say, “a nut gone,” the Waldorf salad has always had a touch of glamor that is quite at odds with the royal dish. This simple chopped salad made its debut at a charity ball held at the New York hotel in aid of St Mary’s Children’s Hospital in 1893, so it was designed for mass catering, rather than fine dining. It’s quick to make, can be made ahead of time without fear of it wilting, and it also uses a couple of very seasonal ingredients. Perfect autumn stuff.
the fruit and vegetables
It’s not often that recipes have a reliable origin story, but in this case, there seems little reason to doubt that the Waldorf is the brainchild of Oscar Tschirky, the Swiss maitre d’ who included the original in The Cook Book of “Oscar.” from the Waldorf, published in 1896. Interestingly, his version contains only three ingredients: celery, apples, and mayonnaise.
Celery, while not my favorite vegetable, is a non-negotiable part of a Waldorf salad, adding a fresh crunch and subtle minerality, so if you’re more of a fan, feel free to go bigger. However much you use, always peel the sticks, as Jamie Oliver explains, to get rid of “the stringy bits.” Tschirky and other early recipes like Countess Morphy’s 1935 Recipes of All Nations chop up the celery and apple, often keeping the texture quite chunky (perhaps because Tschirky’s might have been designed to be eaten with one hand during breaks). of the dance), but I prefer it thinly sliced, as in most modern versions.
Apples are the other must-have, although I do try one recipe, from The Robert Carrier Cookbook, that uses pears. They work great too, but since pears lack the tartness of most apples, I’d recommend using a more intense dressing than mayonnaise, which raises the question of whether it’s still a Waldorf salad… but I’m getting ahead of myself. . myself.
Returning to the classic choice, the recipes are split between red and green apples, with some, like Oliver, favoring the former’s sweetness, and others, like Simon Hopkinson and Kirsten Gilmour, specifying granny smiths, the latter cautioning readers from her Mountain Cafe Cookbook to “make sure your apples are nice and crisp or they can really ruin the salad.” I’m with her on that: An element of sweetness is welcome in this salad, but the apples are here primarily to provide crunch and tartness. Redskins may look pretty, but they don’t deliver in the flavor department.
Hopkinson is the only one who peels the apples, but I like the weird flash of color the skins provide much more than I enjoy peeling them. However, I’m going to copy it by cutting them into matches, which feel and look fancier than chunks, as well as increasing the coverage of the dressing. Drizzle the cut apple with lemon juice to prevent unattractive browning under the mayonnaise layer.
With the pears and red apples out, that leaves something else to provide the sweetness. Grapes are popular, as used by Gilmour, Oliver, and Joy of Cooking, but the more intense sweetness of Hopkinson’s sultana raisins, soaked in boiling water until plump and juicy, make for a more interesting juxtaposition with the creamy dressing. Note that Joy of Cooking also suggests substituting mini marshmallows for the grapes to make the salad more kid-friendly, while Morphy adds bananas instead. But having tried both wrapped in mayonnaise, she wouldn’t recommend either course of action.
Countess Morphy’s Waldorf: a bit thick, with bananas inside. Photography: All Felicity Cloake Thumbnails
Tschirky’s original recipe does not mention nuts at all. Walnuts first appear in The Rector Cookbook of 1928, and have been fairly standard ever since, although Hopkinson, who doesn’t care for them, substitutes blanched almonds for them, and I try hazelnuts in Morphy’s recipe, because he doesn’t specify a variety. Since they’re included for both texture and flavor, I conclude that most nuts would work here, but the rich bitterness of nuts is still my go-to – Rowley Leigh recommends the creamy, cool kind if you can get your hands on it, but otherwise Otherwise, toast them before using them to bring out their nutty flavor.
Not everyone uses mayonnaise: Oliver makes a mustard, parsley, and yogurt vinaigrette to “freshen up” your salad, while Gilmour makes a garlic and herb ranch sauce and Carrier gives the reader a choice of mayonnaise or “French dressing.” The latter, flavored with powdered mustard, is certainly the best choice with its sweet pears, but a classic Waldorf without a rich, creamy dressing doesn’t sound like a Waldorf to me.
Robert Carrier uses pears: ‘doesn’t look like a Waldorf to me’.
Hopkinson is very clear that mayonnaise should not be made with olive oil, and I agree that its harsh taste is not welcome here – I would recommend making your own with sunflower oil or another neutral oil, but whatever the type of whatever mayonnaise you use, make sure it has a little mustard in it, or stir a little to taste; its subtle warmth works wonders with apple and walnuts in particular.
It’s common to thin the mayonnaise with something more acidic, like sour cream (Lulu Grimes’ The Cook’s Book of Everything), fresh cream or yogurt (Leigh), or plain creamy, like the double cream in Katie Stewart’s cookbook. I appreciate the lightness that thick plain yogurt brings, although crème fraiche works well too.
Jamie Oliver’s Waldorf: ‘mustard, sprinkled with parsley, spiked with yoghurt…’
Oliver tops his salad with blue cheese, which, while delicious, has no place in a Waldorf, but the drizzle of extra virgin olive oil he uses to finish the dish inspires me to suggest a drizzle of walnut oil instead. It’s not essential, but it ties everything together nicely.
Like Gilmour, Oliver also adds some “interesting” leaves to bulk up his salad, but texture-wise they take the focus away from the chopped items, so I prefer Grimes and Carrier’s suggestion of covering the plate. with leaves, to keep both. a little further apart. This approach also has the distinct benefit, as far as I’m concerned, of looking pleasantly retro, even if it detracts from what Hopkinson describes, with some delight, as the plate’s “soft beige hue.” win win
Perfect Waldorf Salad
Homework 15 minutes
It serves 4
50 g shelled walnutscoarsely chopped
50 g of raisins or sultanasor 1 handful of grapes (optional)
2 sharp green apples (for example, Granny Smith)
2-3 celery sticksor less, depending on taste
2 tablespoons of natural yogurtor fresh cream (optional)
100g mayonnaisepreferably without olive oil
1 teaspoon dijon mustardor to taste (optional)
salt and black pepper
1 little gem lettuceto serve (optional)
walnut oilto serve (optional)
Toast the nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant, then allow to cool. Put the raisins in a small bowl and add enough boiling water to cover; or cut grapes in half, if using, and set aside.
Core the apples, then cut them into matchsticks, place them in a bowl, and squeeze the lemon over the top. Peel and cored the celery, then slice it thinly, add to the apple bowl, and mix well.
Whisk the yogurt or crème fraiche, if using, into the mayonnaise, then add the mustard and season to taste. Drain the raisins and add to the apple and celery (or add the grapes), adding the walnuts to the bowl as well. Pour dressing over top and toss to coat.
Separate the little gem into individual leaves and use to line a salad plate. Pour the salad mixture in the center, finish with a drizzle of the walnut oil if you are using it, and serve.
Waldorf salad: classic retro or childhood trauma? Do you like it with mayonnaise, vinaigrette, or even salad cream, and will anyone make a case for marshmallows in salads?