FINALLY, the first fresh flavors of spring are starting to show up at the farmers’ markets, and before long in our gardens, with more to come every unfolding week. Chef and cookbook author Justin Chapple, who’s also the “Food & Wine” culinary director at large, offers ideas to use the coming bounty, starting with an idea for asparagus, plus easy but transformational homemade salad dressings and more. Which vinegar with which oil please, and why?
Justin is known for his energetic and very approachable style, creating what he calls “built-to-be-easy recipes.” As part of his role at “Food & Wine,” he hosts their video series called “Mad Genius Tips,” the title of his first book, and he authored another called “Just Cook It” (affiliate link).
Justin is going to be teaching a workshop near me in the Hudson Valley on May 8th, 2022, at HGS Home Chef Cooking School in Hillsdale, NY, as part of the big Workshop Experience Weekend that I’m involved with, with lots of festivities. How to get tickets for his event, and the whole May 7-8 festival schedule.
Plus: Enter to win a copy of “Just Cook It” by commenting in the box near the bottom of the page.
Read along as you listen to the April 18, 2022 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
spring recipes and salad dressing ideas, with justin chapple
Margaret Roach: I know you spend time in the city, in New York City, and also upstate New York. Are you upstate now in your garden?
Justin Chapple: I am currently upstate, although with the cold flashes of weather that we’ve been getting, as you can imagine my garden is not doing quite well [laughter]. [Photo above of Justin by Gnomist Photography.]
Margaret: Right. Right. So, yeah, you’re a gardener too, which is great. Welcome, you’re among friends [laughter]. So can I let them in on the subject we were discussing earlier on the phone, that you’re up to your neck in not just deer—but also woodchucks, because that makes you truly one of us?
Justin: Oh my gosh. I want to pretend it’s not an issue, but it is.
Margaret: O.K. That’s fine. See no evil, hear no evil. That might work. O.K. [laughter].
Justin: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny because it’s super-gloomy out this morning, but if I look out the window, just beyond my computer, I can see I have a little friend in the yard already, so…
Margaret: Oh, yikes. O.K. Well that’s one of the deals with gardening, as we all know. “Nuisance wildlife” as they call it in the biology world.
So besides trying madly to protect your plants, you’re staying very busy in the kitchen all the time, too. I mean, there’s like a new “Mad Genius” video on YouTube every week, I think. I loved, by the way, there was a recent one that demystifies a gratin [laughter], which is like there you are just sort of making short order out of slicing vegetables with your mandolin and just making this beautiful thing, but not making it difficult or daunting for regular people like myself.
Justin: Yeah. And you know, that’s really what I’ve sort of become really great at over all my years, working at “Food & Wine.” As you can imagine, working in the “Food & Wine” test kitchen, I’ve cooked recipes from some of the world’s greatest chefs. I mean, people like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. One of the most important parts of my job has been to sort of streamline some of the more difficult recipes, make them a little bit easier so that people can replicate them at home. It’s a skill that I’ve honed over a decade, and it’s one that I take a lot of pride in.
It’s why, whenever I create my own recipes, whether for my cookbooks or for my video series, with Food & Wine, or for my column, I also have a column in “Food & Wine” magazine about every other month. And whenever I create my own recipes, to your earlier point, I like them to be built to be easy, which means it’s all about simple technique, and just putting together flavors in a way that makes you feel like you’ve done a lot of work, even if you haven’t [laughter].
Margaret: Right. And the results are gorgeous. I mean, again, like that gratin that I saw the other day in one of the videos. It’s just like when I see the finished dish, I think, “Wow, that’s like so much work. Oh my goodness.”
But you just kind of broke it down and made it like, “Hey, look, Margaret, you can do this, and it’s really not that hard. The key is having this right tool that speeds everything along and makes beautiful slices.” Do you know what I mean? It just was like, “aha.” And of course I should have known that. Right? But I didn’t think that way. I just got daunted by the end result, which always looks so beautiful and like a lot of work. So anyway.
You spoke about just mentioned the magazine columns, and I could tell from a recent one and the corresponding recipes on the “Food & Wine” website, that by the way, we’ll be able to give some links to when we mention things in this conversation, that you’re excited, too, about moving past winter produce.
I just had the most wonderful day, the other day. My local kind of green grocery kind of place had from a local farm, a bag of pea shoots. And I was just so excited. The flavor, just popping them in my mouth. It was just like, “Whoa!” So what are you excited about? In your recent column you were excited about asparagus that will be coming up soon, I think.
Justin: Yeah. And I think we’re all ready to be done with winter. I think.
Margaret: [Laughter.] Among other things among other things lately.
Justin: Yes, among other things. But I feel like this is one of my favorite times of year because the summer, I love summer produce, but spring produce for whatever reason just thrills me. I think it’s because the produce that we get, such as asparagus and all the little baby vegetables, it’s always such a surprise after so many months of just having like braised meats and-
Margaret: Root vegetables. And root vegetables [laughter].
Justin: Exactly. And in my opinion, it’s the most dramatic transition of seasons. And so I really love to showcase and highlight spring produce. My most recent column in “Food & Wine, “ I called it “Spring Awakenings” because it’s all about showcasing really simple but fun ways of using some of the produce that we’re going to see popping up in the markets and the stores. And of course, if you’re a gardener in your own garden.
But in my opinion, it’s such a great recipe because it’s so simple. It’s just about putting together some asparagus and some spring onions and then just dressing it in something that’s like vibrant and tangy. It just brings it all together and makes it so lovely. [Photo below for “Food & Wine” by Christopher Testani.]
Margaret: Well, so I want to ask about the 7-minute egg. And I also want to ask about the vibrant and tangy. So just quickly on the 7-minute egg, I love that you specify that because sometimes when I’m making egg things or I’m going to boil an egg, or even for a particular use, I always end going to like a cookbook and reminding myself whether it’s a 7 or an eight, or what’s the difference, and what’s the inside going to be like. So what’s a 7-minute?
Justin: So I love to talk about soft-boiled eggs, by the way [laughter]. And The funny thing about it is I was recently in Europe, and I had ordered soft-boiled eggs for breakfast one morning, and they said, “Do you want 1 or 2 minutes?” And I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, I’ve never cooked an egg for 1 or 2 minutes.” And so I ordered it for two minutes, and of course the whites were super runny and the yolk was beautiful. But it was a little too under for me.
So, when I have soft-boiled eggs I prefer them to be 5 minutes and 20 seconds, which is sort of a loose but firm white and then a very runny egg yolk. But that said, my delicious perfectly cooked 5-minute-and-20-second eggs are not ideal to put on a salad because they’d be a little too soft.
Margaret: Yes, yes.
Justin: So I love a 7-minute egg for a salad. And a 7- minute egg is a firm white. So the white of the egg is nice and firm. It’s firm enough to cut with either a knife or a fork, but then the white that just surrounds the egg yolk and then the egg yolk itself are hot, but they’re very runny. It almost adds an additional layer of fat to the salad, if that makes sense.
Margaret: It does. And that’s why I wanted you to explain it just because, really, it sounds so subtle—one more minute or one less minute or whatever. But it’s not, and it changes the whole, the use, the application, as well as the tooth, so to speak, the mouth feel [laughter]. And like you say, the creaminess in this case. Yeah.
Justin: Yeah. And it’s just like perfectly jammy.
Margaret: Yeah, yeah, yeah. O.K., good.
Justin: I think whenever people look at pictures of these eggs that have like a very, very orange yolk and they’re cut in half, and whether you see them online or in a magazine or on Instagram, it’s like that jammy… It’s the jammy egg that people just admire so much. But if you wanted it a little more cooked, you can go with like an 8-minute egg, which the yolk would be totally cooked. It would still be delicious. It’s just you’re not going to get that little bit of runny yolk to sort of additionally dress your salad with.
Margaret: Right. So then that gets us back to dressings. And you mentioned tangy before and so forth. You know, this is another place where a lot of us who are not the level of cook that you are, haven’t had as much practice and confidence—maybe we have one salad dressing recipe, and not all dressings are for all applications. There are all these different notes that you can hit, if you’re confident—if you have your pantry stocked, I guess, and if you’re confident with flavor combination.
So I just want some ideas because we have asparagus coming up. What did you put on this? And then some of the other sort of dressing ideas that you want to encourage us to expand our repertories for this coming season of goodness, you know [laughter]?
Justin: Yeah. So salad dressings, first of all, for everyone, listening, if you learn to make one thing in your life, learn to make a vinaigrette, because it’s just not only for salads. You can use vinaigrettes to dress chicken. You can use vinaigrettes for a pork chop. I mean, really it’s a sauce that is super-versatile. It’s so easy to make, and you almost always have what you need in house. You know, I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle of salad dressing.
Margaret: And it’s not cheap by the way, I noticed in the on the shelf in the store the other day. They had some dressings in bottles and I was like, “Whoa.” That’s an expensive condiment now, too. That’s the other thing.
Justin: Oh yeah, totally. And it’s funny because, not to go on a tangent, but salad dressing is expensive. And when you think that it’s just vinegar and oil, it blows your mind that it could be $3 or $4.99. But then also simple syrup. The fact that it’s sold in the stores for like $5 blows my mind.
Margaret: [Laughter.] What? That’s sugar and water?
Justin: That’s just sugar and water
Margaret: And a little fire. Right? A little heat. Yeah.
Justin: Oh my God.
Margaret: So what did you put on this asparagus and spring onion salad? What were the notes that you wanted to hit there versus some other ideas? Or maybe you want to tell us what your basic vinaigrette is, I don’t know. Where do we begin?
Justin: Well, so what’s interesting about this asparagus and spring onion salad is it has a dressing that you wouldn’t use it on every type of salad you make. And the reason for that is because, as you know, asparagus has a pretty stringent flavor. It’s not a delicate vegetable.
Margaret: Yeah. It’s distinctive. Yes. Yes.
Justin: It’s very distinctive. And so is spring onion, which you know, it’s an onion. And for this salad, the spring onion is left raw, so you’re eating raw onion. But the asparagus is barely blanched. But the dressing I used for this salad is actually inspired by a Chinese condiment. It’s like a scallion sauce that is oftentimes serves tableside. It’s scallions with just like a tiny bit of oil and a tiny bit of vinegar, just enough to dress the scallions. And then you would eat that along with your meal.
And in this case, I make a dressing using the greens of the spring onion. So I thinly slice the bulbs for the salad, but then the greens I mince up and put them with raw ginger, which is, I know some people-
Margaret: Yeah, no, no—it sounds good.
Justin: Yeah. With a little raw ginger, some sherry vinegar, which is one of my favorite vinegars, as well as a little bit of soy sauce, believe it or not, goes into it to give it a little umami. Because the salad, it’s a vegetable salad. It’s very vegetal. So we add a little bit of savoriness by adding the soy sauce to the dressing. And then of course I use a mild oil for that. So it’s something like canola oil or grapeseed oil, vegetable oil, all of those would work. It’s a pretty aggressive salad dressing, but it matches the aggressive flavors of the onion and the asparagus.
Margaret: Well, and I would imagine that a little bit of that saltiness, kind of umami as you say, as well from the soy sauce, and llso with the egg, there’s like a nice thing going on there, too, getting a little of that around your egg, too, would be nice, you know?
Justin: Oh, definitely. Definitely.
Margaret: Yeah. And again, for everybody who’s listening, you don’t have to be taking notes. We’re not giving you measurements or whatever, but here is the recipe link. So you can go there and look for this. So umami and all kinds of good stuff going on in this combination of flavors, huh?
Justin: Yeah. And that’s one of the things I love about homemade salad dressings, is you can customize them with things like soy sauce or coconut amino acids, or an allium like shallots, or in this case the spring onion greens. It’s just once you have the basics down for a homemade dressing, I mean, the possibilities are endless.
Margaret: Yeah. I mean, my boring but basic is the usual olive oil, and I usually use a balsamic vinegar. But I have an old style garlic press. I love to put a clove of garlic through that. It comes out kind of mushed up, and just some mustard and some salt. You know, no big deal. But you’re right: With the same process, I could change it up and I could leave out the mustard, and I could put something else. I could change the vinegar and that would change it, or put ginger instead of the garlic, or both of them for that matter [laughter].
Justin: Yes. So I actually like to talk pantry with people [laughter]. And one of the things I like to point out to people is you should always have multiple vinegars and you should always have a couple different kinds of oils.
I think because of the wide world of cookbooks and food magazines, I think a lot of people think you always have to use olive oil. But you don’t. And so I always recommend having a couple different oils and a few different vinegars on hand. Because if you have that, if you have a variety of those two things, you can make a dressing for anything really.
Margaret: Right. Cause you said you used a sherry vinegar for this thing. I said, “Oh I, a lot of times, use balsamic.” That’s just my default. But for certain things I use rice vinegar. I think it’s called rice vinegar. I have different kinds, but I’m not really clear which to use when. It’s just like I improvise [laughter].
Justin: Right. So I would say a general rule of thumb would be you want to match the aggressiveness of your ingredients with your vinaigrette. So if in your salad, for example, you have things like asparagus or spring onions, I always recommend making a salad dressing that’s as robust in flavor as the ingredients that you’re dressing. So for example, my go-to vinegar for all salad dressing, my absolute go-to is the champagne vinegar.
Justin: Which a lot of times nowadays you’ll see called prosecco vinegar, which is essentially the same thing. Of course, it can only be called champagne if it comes from Champagne.
Margaret: Right. From that region, right. Of course.
Justin: Right. So a lot of what you’ll see in the grocery stores now is prosecco vinegar. But either one is super-versatile and I love it so much because it has a really bright acidity without the strong wine flavor that you would get in a white wine vinegar.
Justin: So it’s a little more delicate than a white wine vinegar, which is why I love it so much. And my go-to way to use it is I add some Dijon, I add a little garlic, I add a little shallot. And sometimes I add a little honey, actually.
Justin: Which gives it just a touch of sweetness. You can also do just a pinch of sugar. But the reason I like that is because it’s milder than a white wine vinegar. It also comes off a little less sweet than a white wine vinegar, and so that’s why sometimes I add like honey or sugar to it. But I always recommend either having champagne vinegar and a white wine vinegar, or just pick one of the two, because they are pretty interchangeable.
Justin: But then to your point, another one of my favorites is using a rice vinegar, a rice wine vinegar.
Margaret: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s different and there’s certain things that I always use it for. I mean, I put it in things like when I make like a cold noodle, like sesame noodles, peanut noodles, that type of thing. I think I use it in that dressing for the noodles. I think that’s why I originally bought it, and then I tried using it in other things.
Justin: Yeah. And much like how champagne vinegar is a little less wine-y than white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar is even less so. I mean, it’s really, really mild and delicate and it’s one of my favorites. I actually really love to make quick pickles using rice wine vinegar, which is really smart during this time of year because you have a lot of tender vegetables.
So you can quickly pickle them for a salad even. But rice wine vinegar is another one I always like to have on hand. And with something like a rice vinegar, this is sort of where the oils, the different oils, start to play in. Because if you’re using something like champagne vinegar, I would definitely recommend going with like an olive oil because olive oil has a nice, intense flavor as does the wine vinegar. So they pair nicely together. But you’re going to use a really mild vinegar, like rice vinegar, you might want to go within really neutral oil, like canola or vegetable oil.
Margaret: I need to widen my oil palette, because as I said, we all kind of got into the olive oil thing. And a lot of us, again, who are not as expert home cooks, we tend to rely on that, and it’s not appropriate for all things. Or it’s not the ideal for all things, I guess.
Justin: Right. Because olive oil has a distinct flavor to it.
Margaret: Yes. It’s not neutral. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Justin: It’s definitely not neutral. Yeah.
Margaret: Yeah. So other things that are kind of coming up. Asparagus is coming up. Obviously we’ve got a lot of baby greens happening. I mentioned the pea shoots were there the other day that I couldn’t resist, and I’ve been stuffing them in my face ever since [laughter]. But any other things that you’re kind of excited about, ingredients that are coming up soon, that you’re working on some recipes for, or whatever?
Justin: Well, I’m definitely into the pea shoots just like you. One of my favorite ways of serving them is I like to serve them with seared scallops. So I do simple seared scallops, and then I make a warm butter mixture in the pan, with a little butter and a little vinegar or lemon juice, almost like a warm vinaigrette. Then I just pour that over the pea shoots when it’s barely warm, and it’s just so delicious.
Margaret: Oh, that’s very simple. And yet it’s very elegant.
Justin: Yes. And that paired with the scallops, or even just like some salmon or something is just so lovely.
Margaret: Good idea. Right. They could be an accompaniment, like a top-dressing, so to speak, of a fish dish, the pea shoots?
Justin: Yeah. I love that recipe. And I do make a lot of tartines. And I have to say, a little kitchen confession, is that’s just because so I can try to avoid eating too much bread.
Margaret: Right. So tartine is instead…?
Justin: It’s an open-face sandwich. So you’re just getting one piece of bread piled high with all of your sandwich fillings. And then you’re just eating it open-face like that. But the one that I make with the radishes is so fun. I think everyone listening should make it because it’s not just fun and delicious, but it’s also very beautiful.
It’s very thinly sliced radishes that I use mandolin to slice. But you can also do it by hand if you don’t feel comfortable, or if you don’t have a mandolin. And the trick is you soak the radishes in ice water after they’re sliced. They get just impossibly crisp, and they stay really juicy. One of the great things about this recipe is it’s sort of a zero-waste recipe, because you’re not only using the radishes, but you’re using their greens.
Margaret: To make the green butter. Right, right.
Justin: To make a green butter. So you put some softened butter in a food processor along with the radish greens and some salt and a little bit of the lemon zest. You whip it until it gets really bright green and fluffy. Then that’s what you spread on your toast, and then you pile the radishes on top. This is actually inspired by sort of a very classic combination in French cooking, which is radishes in butter.
Margaret: Right. Of course, of course. I didn’t even think of that. Huh.
Justin: Yeah. So you can go to a cocktail party in Paris and you might be served some French radishes with a little softened butter and sea salt on the side.
Margaret: Well, I wanted to just remind everybody because we’re running out of time almost. That you’re going to be up in my area in the Hudson Valley, May 8th, giving a class called “Say Cheese,” in which cheese is the added ingredient that makes the dishes kind of come together. We’re going to give info about that class.
Margaret: And I hope that you’ll be able to pop by the garden or something that day. I hope I’ll see you before long since you’re an across the river neighbor. But I hope I’ll see you up this way.
Justin: [Laughter.] I will be there, and I hope I get to see you. And I hope I get to see all the gardens.
Margaret: Yeah. And so thanks for making time today in between animal watching and recipe developing [laughter], Justin. Really good to talk to you.
Justin: Very good to talk to you. Thank you so much.
Do you have any favorite salad-dressing ingredients or tricks to share? What was the last version that you enjoyed (homemade or bottled)?
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its 11th year in March 2020. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the April 18, 2022 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify