Spatula Diaries: Will the real Sensation Salad please stand up?

Baton Rougeans have been chasing the formula for years, but what makes a Sensation Salad authentic?

Created years ago at the now-closed Government Street eatery Bob and Jake’s, Sensation Salad occupies a warm spot in the hearts of native Baton Rougeans and those of us who have lived here long enough to call it home. This cool, crisp and simple salad is defined by an oil-based dressing spiked with Romano cheese, lemon juice and garlic. Wonderfully acerbic, it’s an easy accompaniment to a wide range of dishes. It’s a great winter salad, because its ingredients are available year round. It also travels well, making it a good choice for tailgates.

Like many of its fans, I remember Sensation Salad from The Place on Florida Boulevard, a spot later founded by Jake Staples of Bob and Jake’s. It’s closed now, too, but the salad took root as one of the few dishes born exclusively in Baton Rouge. Today, lots of local restaurants feature some version of Sensation Salad on their menus, including Louis DeAngelo’s, Adrian’s and Ruffino’s. And replicating the taste of the original dressing in bottle form was the motivation behind salad dressing company Hanley’s Fine Foods, which launched its trademarked Sensation dressing in 2012.

Sensation Salad’s magic lies in its simple ingredients, but those remain somewhat cryptic. Staples never released the official recipe, leaving scores of fans to take their best shot at mimicry. Is it olive oil that forms the base? Canola oil? Or a combination of the two? The general thinking is there’s no vinegar in this salad. Instead, the acidity comes from lemon juice. Most agree that finely grated Romano cheese is essential, because you want it to melt into the liquids as you emulsify. And lots of garlic is a must. The dressing gets tossed with cold, torn lettuce—preferably the crunchy kind. There’s no room for fussy wild greens here. You need a combination of old-school iceberg and romaine.

Here’s my own reliable formula for sensation salad dressing. I know, I know—it’s highly personal. So call me out, and adjust away.

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup canola oil
Juice of 3 lemons
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup finely ground Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 head of iceberg lettuce
1 head of romaine lettuce
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped

Blend the first five ingredients well and set aside. Add salt and pepper to taste. Wash and dry the lettuce. Tear the lettuce into bite-sized pieces, place in a large bowl with paper towels to cover, and chill. When ready to serve, combine the lettuce and chopped parsley. Toss well with the dressing and serve.

Maggie Heyn Richardson is a regular 225 contributor. Reach her at hungryforlouisiana.com.