Let's go to the salad bar

Martine Nouet lightens up for summer
By Martine Nouet
When spring appears, we crave light. Longer and brighter days but also lighter meals with fresh crunchy vegetables, special sauces and cold dishes. This is the season for salads.

At first sight, that type of food does not excite inspiration for great matches or recipes with whisky.

My culinary passion for vinegar probably attracted to me to start working on possible pairings for whisky with salads. I quickly found very interesting combinations. Not the easiest ones, obviously, but really challenging recipes.

The good thing with salads is that you can work in harmony with the four primary tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter).

Some will think that you have got to be French to promote such a funny pairing. Well, salad is a nightmare dish for wine tasters and wine-waiters when it comes to matching wine with food.

Wine and vinegar though, in the case of wine vinegar, both originating from grape, are often seen as rivals. Vinegar is most often considered as deteriorated wine, which is not true. It is a noble ingredient in food, provided it has been well-crafted. But it is still not welcomed at some tables in Bordeaux Châteaux.

The funny thing is that ‘French dressing’ was brought accross the Channel by a French emigrant from noble ascendance: Monsieur d’Albignac, who sought refuge in London during the French Revolution.

As he was dining one day in a famous London tavern, he was asked by two young aristocrats if he could use his native talents to dress the salad for them. Which he did.

They were so delighted with the results that they started singing his praises in their upper-class circle. Monsieur d’Albignac became the ‘fashionable salad-maker’ and made a career of it.

He appeared with his small briefcase full of the sacred ingredients: a whole set of oils and vinegar, anchovies, truffles, spices and even ketchup – or its ancestor! And swiftly demonstrated his inspired skill.

The story does not say if whisky was on his list of ingredients.

The aromatic concentration in single malts or bourbons allows a tasty confrontation with dressings.

Not any whisky though. The strong taste of ingredients such as mustard, wasabi, capers or vinegar requires a pungent and rather dry whisky. In fact, I have obtained the best results experimenting either with smoky and peaty or sherried whiskies.

For the former, malt vinegar, mustard, wasabi, herbs, olives go well with sea-food salads. For the latter, toasted hazelnut or almond oil, balsamic vinegar, oranges, honey, dried fruits, soft spices will enhance vegetables dishes, either raw or cooked.

It is important to find a good balance between the flavours. It may be necessary to soften sourness by adding a touch of honey, maple syrup or dried fruit. Use whisky in the dressing, but just a wee dash as they say in Scotland.

So are you ready to become a fashionable salad maker in your own circle too?

Raisins and carrot salad with an orange and malty sauce

Serves 6


  • 200g of carrots

  • 3 tbsp raisins

  • 4 tbsp whisky

  • 2 tbsp walnut oil

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil

  • 1 tbsp malt vinegar

  • juice from a half orange

  • 1 tbsp grated orange rind

  • 1 tbsp grated coconut

  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander

  • salt, pepper

1. Soak raisins in 3 tbsp whisky and heat gently in the microwave for 20 seconds on low power. Let them infuse for 30 minutes.
2. Peel carrots and grate them thinly. Mix both oils, vinegar, orange juice and grated rind and the last spoonful of whisky in a bowl. Add salt and pepper.
3. Place grated carrots in a large bowl, add coconut and raisins soaked in whisky. Pour the dressing over the carrots. Mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with coriander. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

The flavour tip

Placing raisins and whisky in the microwave for a few seconds helps the whisky to penetrate so that the fruit swells quicker. To enhance the coconut flavour in the dressing, you can replace 2 tbsp sunflower oil by the same quantity of coconut milk. A touch of ginger or cinnamon powder brings out the flavours.

The best match

A sherried single malt. Such as Glendronach, Glenfarclas Macallan, Mortlach, or any sherried version of a Highland or Speyside malt. Or a bourbon like Blanton’s, Maker’s Mark or Wild Turkey.

Smoked salmon parcels in a wasabi and whisky creamy sauce

Serves 6


  • 6 large smoked salmon slices

  • 12 radishes

  • 2 celery sticks

  • 1 carrot

  • 6 tsp wasabi (Japanese green mustard)

  • 150g double cream

  • 2 tbsp chopped chives

  • 3 tbsp whisky

  • 1 bowl of mixed salad

  • mixed herbs: parsley, basil, chervil, tarragon

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar

  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

  • salt, pepper

1. Peel vegetables and cut them into tiny cubes. In a bowl, whip the cream with 5 tsp wasabi. Add a little salt and pepper. Slowly pour in 2 tbsp whisky while continuing to whip. Add in the vegetables and chives. Mix well.
2. Lay salmon slices flat on a board. Cut them in half. Fill each slice with a tbsp of vegetables and then fold them to make small rolls. Place two rolls on each plate.
3. Make a dressing with the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour on salad. Mix and divide into the six plates, placing salad in the middle. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
4. Mix the rest of wasabi with the last spoonful of whisky and drizzle round the salmon rolls.

The texture tip

It is very important to have a crunchy mixture of vegetables. They need to be cut thinly. This is what we call a brunoise in French cuisine – quite a long and meticulous job, but it is worth it.

To keep all the freshness and bright colours of this starter, do not prepare it too far in advance. You can have all your ingredients ready but prepare just one hour before dinner.

The best match

A peaty but not too smoky whisky. Clynelish, Old Pulteney or an assertive Connemara will show well through the tangy wasabi.

Artichoke hearts, mascarpone tapenade, whisky dressing

Serves 6


  • 6 large artichoke hearts

  • 3 tbsp mascarpone cheese (or ricotta cheese)

  • 1tbsp lemon juice

  • 6 cherry tomatoes

  • 6 basil leaves

  • 12 stoned black olives

  • ground pepper

For the tapenade

  • 300g small black olives

  • 6 anchovy fillets

  • 5 tbsp olive oil

  • 3 tbsp whisky

  • ground pepper

  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

For the dressing

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 tbsp whisky

  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  • ground pepper, salt

1. Make tapenade. Stone olives, blend them in a mixer with the other ingredients. Press tapenade in a sieve over a bowl to dry it off. Keep tapenade aside.
2. Make dressing. Add olive oil, whisky and balsamic vinegar to the tapenade juice you have got from sieving. Season with pepper and a little salt. Stir well.
3. Place each artichoke heart on a plate. Cover with tapenade. In a bowl, whisk mascarpone and lemon juice. Season with black pepper. Place a quenelle of mascarpone on the tapenade with a cherry tomato, a basil leave and two half olives for decorating.
4. Spoon a little dressing round the artichoke heart.

The presentation tip

If you use fresh artichokes (as opposed to tinned or frozen), rub them with lemon so that they do not blacken, which they do through oxydation when in contact with air. Do not forget to add a splash of red, with the cherry tomato, and green with herbs (basil and chervil for instance).

The best match

A Kildalton malt from Islay works best with this dish: Ardbeg or Laphroaig especially or a dry version of Lagavulin. Caol Ila would shine with the tapenade. This French Riviera speciality is cooked here without garlic as it would overwhelm the whisky. Talisker would not mind the olives nor the vinegar. 􀀁