"We're creamy," says Luci Brieger, a vegetable farmer, when I asked how she and her family were doing. "We're having a creamy summer."
She said this knowing I'd called to discuss her salad dressing, which goes by the name "Creamy." It was also understood that we were talking about something more because on that Victor farm, cream is a unit of goodness.
Despite what its name suggests, Creamy contains no milk products. It began years ago as a modified Caesar dressing, and that vibe remains to this day in the romaine-based salad it most frequently adorns.
But more than simply a salad dressing, Creamy is something of a mother sauce, akin to what hollandaise would be in a French kitchen. There are many uses for Creamy beyond salad, and many versions of Creamy.
The Brieger kitchen runs with a brutal efficiency. Children are plucked from their games and put to work as garlic peelers and pea shellers. Recipes are altered in order to avoid needing to wash the blender. A constant game of cat-and-mouse goes on between Luci and the parade of kids, parents, farm help, visitors and other "random people" who, if the coast is clear, will cross the kitchen, open the fridge and scan for Creamy.
"When they see leftover Creamy in the fridge, they put it on bread or other stuff, or dip stuff in it," Brieger says. "I frown on that."
Here's how to make your own:
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, mashed with salt. Brieger recommends a two-piece garlic smasher with spikes inside that you rotate between your palms.
1/2 teaspoon salt, used with garlic above
1/4 cup of lemon juice and/or white vinegar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup mayo (or Vegenaise, which Brieger and I both prefer)
olive oil, as needed
Combine the ingredients with a fork and add olive oil until the sauce reaches "the texture that pleases me," as Brieger explained. Think ranch dressing. Season with additional salt if necessary.
The amount of Creamy made by the above quantities will dress a salad of one large romaine (chopped), one medium cucumber (sliced), half a medium-sized sweet onion (sliced) and a half-cup fresh dill, chopped. Mix these ingredients and toss in Creamy. Portion onto plates, grind black pepper to taste on each portion, and serve.
Brieger says that one of the high points of summer at the farm is a pea and mutton salad they make, as soon as the peas are ready to shell. "It's the reason I grow shelling peas," she admits. "I certainly don't grow them for the customers. They just want snap peas."
- photo by Ari LeVaux
Brieger's pea and lamb salad is highly balanced. It's built upon Brieger's usual chopped romaine, dill and sliced onions and cucumbers. It also includes shelled peas and braised lamb, and is held together by a spicy version of Creamy that's tweaked to counter the gaminess of the lamb. When Brieger makes it, she uses mutton.
The tougher the meat, the better, provided you planned far-enough ahead to cook it soft. Braised slowly for hours, the connective tissue that crisscrosses tough cuts of meat will melt. The result is soft meat with a satisfying mouthfeel, thanks to the melted connected tissue. The most commonly available tough cut of lamb is shank, but shoulder, or any cut from an older sheep, can be used as well.
Brown the meat for a few minutes, about six inches under the broiler, in a baking dish or cast-iron pan, stirring or turning frequently to prevent the brown from becoming a burn. When browned, set the oven heat to 300 degrees, and add a mixture of wine and water—enough to barely cover the meat. Add a bay leaf, sprinkles of salt and garlic powder, and cover, checking frequently, until it softens. Give about three hours to cook a shank. As it cooks, add additional liquid as necessary to keep the meat about half-submerged. Cook until the meat is soft enough to cut with a spoon, and let it cool to room temperature.
When cool, pull the meat apart with your fingers, removing any bones and fat, until it's in roughly square-inch chunks.
Here's how to make the modified Creamy for this salad:
Creamy for lamb
2/3 cup of mayo
1/3 cup yogurt
3-6 cloves of shredded garlic
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
Prepare the same way as creamy. This will dress a salad of one large head romaine (chopped), one medium cucumber (sliced), and half of a medium-sized onion (sliced), a half-cup of chopped fresh dill, a half-pound of shelled peas, and a pound of braised sheep.
Combine all salad ingredients except for the romaine with the modified Creamy. Then toss in the chopped lettuce.