We’ve had a Copco plastic salad spinner (aka lettuce dryer) for years. Actually, Michael has had it since the 90’s before I was even a thought in his head.
I use it because we already have it, but I’ve never liked it. It’s plastic, so it gets slimy and hard to clean out. And it’s big. It takes up a lot of valuable real estate in the kitchen. From time to time, I’ve gone online and searched Google for “plastic-free salad spinner” or “stainless steel salad spinner.” But I just keep getting tricked by this Oxo stainless steel salad spinner, which is only stainless steel on the outside. The inside basket–the part that actually touches your salad — is still plastic. Plus, I don’t make salads that often anyway, so I couldn’t really justify buying a brand new one even if I did find a plastic-free model.
How the French Spun Their Salad in the Old Days
You could seek out an old French style collapsible stainless mesh basket. You need to go outside to use it because you need to swing it vigorously.
Really? Never heard of it. So I Googled “French metal salad spinner” and came up with lots of results. Apparently, in the old days before plastic salad spinners, French people would put salad in a wire basket with handles and go outside and whirl it in the air like a windmill. And just when I was thinking THAT was a brilliant idea (spin salad AND get some exercise!), I stumbled across this ancient Julia Child video: How to Make Salad Nicoise. The whole thing is fascinating, but the part that interested me most comes in around minute 10:55. Check out her demonstration of salad spinners! (I’ve bookmarked that section so this video starts right at that part.)
Did you see the one that looks like a wire mesh basket but spins like a top? Suddenly, I knew I had to find THAT one. Ebay, maybe. Or Etsy. But try as I might, the only one I found for sale was one from Storenvy that was missing the base that keeps it stable.
So, finally giving up on the idea of getting a spinning wire basket for my salad, I decided to go ahead and order the kind of basket that you take outside and spin through the air. I found lots of vintage, secondhand wire salad baskets on Etsy and bought one from the shop anythinggoeshere. I felt fine about this choice because the basket is secondhand, so I’m giving it a new life.
There Might Be A Simpler Way
Well, all proud of myself but still wanting to find the spinning-like-a-top kind I saw on Julia Child’s video, I posted the video and query on my Facebook wall and asked if anyone else had seen one like it. But the responses surprised me. Many people didn’t understand why I needed a spinner in the first place when a cloth towel or even a pillow case would do.
Really? I was skeptical. But since I had decided to make a nice big salad to bring to a Thanksgiving potluck, I thought I would try both methods and see which worked best.
(Note: Some people recommend using paper towels. That is not an option I chose to consider because although it may be plastic-free, it is certainly not waste-free.)
Comparing Plastic-Free “Salad Spinners”
I showed up at Nancy and David’s with my salad ingredients, as well as my new-to-me vintage salad basket and a ReUseIt organic cotton bulk/produce bag that I’ve had for years. I asked David, an amazing photographer, to document the experiment.
First, I washed the lettuce in a big metal bowl.
Then, put half in the cloth produce bag and half in the wire basket.
I took both outside and spun them in the air. (Yes, November is warm enough in the Bay Area for bare feet.)
First the cloth bag… I could spin it really fast over my head. It sprayed like a wet dog all over the deck. It was so much fun I didn’t want to stop.
But I had to stop and switch to the wire basket. You can’t spin the basket over your head in the same way. It’s more of a sideways windmill motion.
And then, after all the fun was over (fun not just for me but for the crowd that had gathered on the top deck to watch), we went inside to assess the results.
First the lettuce in the basket… hmm… still kinda wet, actually.
Then the lettuce in the cloth bag. And… we have a winner!
In addition to wicking water all over the deck, the bag had also absorbed a lot of the water from the lettuce… something the basket couldn’t do.
Wow. I didn’t need to buy something new after all. That’s okay. I will hang the cloth bag inside out and let it dry out for the next time. And I’ll use the wire basket to hold produce but not spin it.
Why Dry Lettuce?
Those of you who don’t make salad very often may be wondering why it’s necessary to dry lettuce before making a salad in the first place. One reason is that your salad dressing will stick better!
This salad was delicious. We had a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope you all (those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving) did too.