Old fashioned watercress is getting harder to come by, at least around here in Sacramento. Whole Foods carries watercress, but the leaves are too tender, and lack the bite of what I grew up eating. This is my mother’s recipe for a wilted watercress salad with a warm, sweet and sour bacon dressing. It requires the sturdy watercress variety which can hold up to both the heat and the flavor of the dressing. I love this salad. It’s like a wilted spinach salad, only less wilted, and more peppery. In my father’s and my opinion, it really must be made with bacon fat and crumbled bacon. You can substitute olive oil, but it’s really not the same.
Wilted Watercress Salad with Bacon Dressing Recipe
- 2 bunches watercress (Try to get mature watercress as shown in the photo, not the baby watercress that Whole Foods carries. It will hold up better to the hot dressing.)
- 3-4 slices bacon
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- Salt and pepper
- A pinch of ground mustard
- A pinch of paprika (sweet)
1 Rinse thoroughly the watercress, removing old leaves and thick stems. Set aside in a serving bowl.
2 Heat a small stick-free pan on medium heat and cook the bacon until done, several minutes on each side. Remove the bacon from the pan and put on a paper towel. Keep the bacon fat in the pan.
3 Add the cider vinegar and sugar to the bacon fat. Stir to dissolve. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add a pinch of ground mustard and a pinch of paprika. Taste and adjust seasoning. This is a sweet-sour dressing, so if it is too acidic, add a bit more sugar, if too sweet, add a bit more vinegar.
4 Bring the dressing to a simmer. Pour over the watercress. Crumble the bacon over the top. Toss and serve.