Shrimp and Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon VinaigrettePosted: May 26, 2014
Early on in my college career, I saw a lot of my mother. Though I lived on campus, I was only about 30 minutes away from home. My sister had jumped across state lines, so I got the brunt of parental visits as my mother adjusted from having three to just one child at home. (To be honest, I also did my fair share of calling up mom to come visit/take me home for the weekend as well). On one such day trip with my mother, we went to Applebee’s for lunch. Applebee’s was the standard dinner out during my early years, especially when we visited my grandfather in Colorado. For many years, I stubbornly refused to sample anything beyond the chicken fingers and the hot dog that huddled safely on the kids menu, until I was well past the age limit able to access that menu. Faced with the wide, unknown expanse of the regular menu, I chose the only meal that seemed safe: the boneless buffalo wings that my mother nearly always ordered. Just as my childhood restaurant visits were filled with chicken fingers and hot dogs, my early-teenaged years were now ruled by a devotion to hot-sauce-smothered chicken and blue cheese dressing. With my luck, I was choosing dishes that could be found at nearly every restaurant we visited. I think part of the reason for my steadfast devotion to eating the same dish time and again was due to my stomach troubles in my youth (as previously mentioned). The short list of “safe” dishes may have truly been better for my stomach, but honestly, I think I was just less nervous when I ate those, and thus, less likely to decide that I felt “sick” after eating out.
Through high school, I started to slower expand my list of acceptable foods, and, on this particular visit to Applebee’s, I was in the height of my obsession with tomato-basil soup. I had also never been to the restaurant at lunch time. They were advertising a new lunch menu: a “you-pick-two” idea of pairing soup, salad, or sandwiches for lunch. The concept was quickly becoming popular and I felt ever-so grown up as I eschewed my usual choice of sandwich for my favorite soup (tomato-basil) and a salad that I would never have touched just a few years prior: Spinach with Shrimp topped with a “warm bacon vinaigrette”. I am so glad I picked that salad. It was incredible–crisp spinach just beginning to wilt with the heat of the smoky-sweet, tangy vinaigrette with plump, sweet shrimp intermingling with sharp shards of onion and soft bits of roasted red pepper. This was the first salad that seemed to stick in my memory. I had to have it again, and spent the next few months trying to convince my friends to do dinner at Applebee’s whenever we went out off-campus. This was a monumental task, since my new best friend had worked at Applebee’s before coming to college and sworn off the restaurant completely. Finally, once, I managed to get the group to go there for dinner since the restaurant was right beside the movie theater. I was happy to see the salad was still on the menu, and ordered the full portion. I was not disappointed. It was just as good as I remembered. That was the last time I went to Applebee’s.
Nowadays, there isn’t much there that M and I can eat, and, if my friends group is going to any of the run-of-the-mill American restaurants, TGI Fridays’ happy hour specials trump all the rest. But even now, six years later, I occasionally find myself thinking about that salad. And, for a few weeks here, I was on a serious salad kick: unable to not pick up buckets of greens and lettuces in the store and at the farmer’s market. In the last few weeks, I have finally tried collard greens (cooked greens! I liked them!) and dished up several full-sized salads for dinner, including this remake of the memorable Applebee’s salad. Unfortunately, a truly terrible take-away-salad-induced bout of food poisoning has cooled my fervor for salads, at least for the time being. But this Shrimp and Spinach salad might just be the dish that can restore my love and trust in leafy greens. I checked Applebee’s menu and they no longer offer this salad with shrimp, so that is now one more reason to make this at home! I served these full sized salads with garlic bread and called it a night. Quick, easy, and delicious dinner!
On a quick side note, I do use tomato jam in this recipe. E & A made a huge batch at the end of last summer and I have loved finding dishes to add the sweet-and-spicy jam into the mix. This is one of the best so far–if you can get your hands on some tomato jam, it is absolutely worth the purchase. If not, you can leave it out of the vinaigrette. I mention some ideas for substitution in the recipe below.
Shrimp & Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes
For the Salad
- 1 1/2 lbs medium-size, raw, de-veined shrimp (thawed if previously frozen)
- 8-10 c. fresh spinach
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 c. (packed) roasted red peppers, diced
- 4 Tbsp. raw, unsalted almonds
- 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, shredded/grated (optional)
- 4 slices cooked bacon, chopped (drippings reserved)
For the Bacon Vinaigrette
- Reserved bacon drippings (should be about 2-4 Tbsps, depending on the thickness of your bacon. Don’t stress about it)
- 2 Tbsp to 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. tomato jam*
- Ground garlic, optional
- Ground black pepper
*Tomato jam gives sweetness, depth, and a bit of a kick to this dressing. If you cannot get a jar of it, you can substitute an extra tsp of honey, and 1 tsp. of chili flakes to get the basics of the flavor. If you are able to add a touch (1/4-1/2 tsp) of tomato paste as well, that can round out the flavor.
Prep the Salad
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the almonds. This should only take a few minutes, so stay close to the stove, stirring or shaking the pan frequently. The nuts are toasted when you begin to smell the almonds and they barely darken in color. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then chop.
Add a little oil to the pan to prevent sticking. Wash shrimp and pat dry. Cook the shrimp over medium heat, in batches, if necessary to prevent crowding the pan, for 2-3 minutes per side, until pink, firm, and opaque. I like to use Easy-Peel shrimp in the shell as it helps prevent overcooking. Shrimp that have already been peeled/are not in the shell will take even less time. (An easy way to watch for overcooking is to look at the ridge of the shrimp where the vein has been cut away. If this edge thickens or starts to curl and turn white, the shrimp are on the edge of being overcooked. Remove from the heat and cool as quickly as possible.) Remove cooked shrimp and allow to cool, then peel and remove shells and tails.
Divide the spinach onto 4 plates and sprinkle each plate with the divided sliced onion, chopped peppers, shredded cheese, and cooled, chopped almonds.
Make the Vinaigrette
Reheat the bacon drippings if cooled. Over medium heat, whisk olive oil into the bacon fat. Continue whisking as you add the mustard, then the vinegar, and finally the tomato jam (or substitutes). Add a dash or two of garlic powder and ground black pepper. Whisk and cook until the jam has melted into the vinaigrette. Remove pan from heat and whisk in honey. Now, off the heat, is the time to taste the dressing to see if it need a bit more seasoning (pepper, salt, garlic) or more oil or more vinegar. I tend to like a higher, more equal ratio of oil to vinegar, so do check to make sure the dressing taste good to you. Give a final, brisk whisk to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Slide the shrimp into the warm pan, and turn to coat. If needed, to warm the shrimp through, place over low heat until steaming.
Assemble the salad
Divide the shrimp among the plates and pour the hot vinaigrette over top of the salad. Serve immediately.