Nothing really says summer like watermelon. Even though I think it’s best au naturel — ice cold with a hint of salt — I also really love mixing it into a (mostly) savory salad. I was introduced to the idea while working the pantry station as a line cook years ago. On the menu was a salad of perfectly cubed watermelon garnished with crumbled feta, pitted kalamata olives, mint leaves and mint oil. Somehow, even though I was familiar with the classic melon and prosciutto pairing, this combination pretty much blew my mind.
I’ve since added that watermelon salad to my revolving summer repertoire where it has, for the most part, stayed the same. The salt from the feta and olives is outstanding with the sweet melon. For greens, I still use mint when I have it around, but have found spicy greens like arugula, baby mustard greens or nasturtiums also work fabulously. And a little red onion is just a good thing overall. In lieu of mint oil, I’ve found a drizzle of lemon juice or good extra virgin olive oil is all that’s really needed to “dress” this salad.
However, after this year, I’m adding a new modernist element to my old favorite — compression.
The first time I had compressed watermelon was Friday night when my parents were in town visiting. My husband made us an appetizer that was as gorgeous as it was delicious — sliced raw scallops marinated in olive oil, togarashi and lemon served with cubes of watermelon and heirloom tomatoes. While the whole thing was fabulous, it was the melon that made the dish so interesting. Compressed it mimicked the look of tuna, glistening and meaty. It was no longer light and airy chunks, but instead dense and toothsome jewels.
Again, I was blown away.
I loved the texture so much, the next day I made my husband compress the rest of the watermelon we had left. And, of course, the first thing I did with it was to create my favorite salad, though now it boasted a new-age spin. It turned out so good, I can’t wait to play around with more compressed melon this summer — I’m thinking this method will also make one hell of a vodka-laced watermelon salad!
So what do you need to compress a watermelon? Just a cryovac bag and a vacuum sealer! We have a pretty serious industrial dealer with a chamber but even a home model (i.e. a Foodsaver) will work just fine — though you may want to crisp the cubes in the freezer first. That will prevent them from getting all of their juicy flavor sucked out. It’s that easy!