At Betty's Kitschen in IFC, creative minds are at play. Chef Jerome Lagarde's compressed watermelon salad, for instance, comes sous vide. The French vacuum-cooking technique changes the fruit's texture. 'The air and excessive water of the watermelon are taken out, making it more dense while maintaining the fresh flavours,' Lagarde explains. Tradition reigns elsewhere - Red Soho does a large Cobb salad that, with its hunks of meat, eggs, veggies and cheese, fills even the hungriest stomach until far past lunch. JAR, also in Central, a pared-down salad bar with pre-mixed selections, is a lunchtime special, while the arrival of pit-stops Just Salad and Dressed make gourmet greens on the go possible. While sous vide is likely a step too far for the home cook, many of us would like to know the secrets of a good salad and dressing. Anyone is capable of making a great salad if they understand the key elements, says Rabiab Penmogkol, head chef at Thai restaurant Lotus. 'The secret is always to use the freshest ingredients but also to not over-complicate the salad. Some of the best salads are the simplest, with only a few ingredients. The idea is to let each [ingredient] stand out and be an integral part of the salad instead of being lost,' he says. Great salads almost always share a formula. Textural opposites intertwine softer ingredients with those that crunch and must be chewed. Well-balanced salt, sour, sweet and acidic flavours should dance and mingle on the palate. A case in point: chef Rabiab's crispy salmon and watermelon salad combines lush sweet fruit, pepped by shreds of ginger and shallot, and mint and coriander, with both tang and a satisfying crunch coming from the deep-fried salmon. The result is a Southeast Asian taste symphony, where every ingredient plays its part. Perhaps the iconic and almighty Caesar salad (sometimes called Cesar) has enjoyed such phenomenal and lasting success because it sticks to the formula. Crunchy romaine lettuce, a zingy blend of garlic, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, anchovies and lemon, swathed in oil and egg, and topped with bacon, croutons and Parmesan cheese: the combination of multiple flavours and textures makes just the right marriage. 'Caesar salad has a lot of strong flavours so it's mostly about balancing all of those,' says Richard Sawyer, the British executive sous chef at Hugo's in Tsim Sha Tsui. Hugo's has served a signature Caesar since the restaurant's original incarnation in 1969, which may explain how the chefs sprinkle and stir the mixture with such unerring ease. Their version comes with a power-punching hit of Tabasco sauce, not an original Caesar inclusion, but one which adds pleasing oomph when created in practised hands. When preparing a salad, says Sawyer, 'Act like a chef.' Caution goes a long way. 'Go in lightly and then add more if you want a stronger flavour. And taste, taste, taste,' he adds. As we all travel more, inspirations for great salad-making are plentiful, Sawyer says. His current salad passion is a taste of his adopted home and makes use of Hong Kong's fresh seafood. He likes simple salads of shrimp, clam or squid served with only oil, lemon juice and herbs. Many countries can boast a salad of their own invention. Italians favour simplicity too. Think of classic Mozzarella and tomato salads drizzled in oil. Greece gave us that magic medley of feta, olive and fresh herbs. The Middle East has fattoush, a filling salad of torn romaine or chopped cucumber, chopped parsley and mint, with tomatoes and squares of toasted pitta bread. Some also insist on including coriander. Then there are the hybrids - the pasta, potato, and lentil salads - whose origins may be muddled but taste no worse for it. Mighty Caesar may have competition. Salad doesn't have to go to the extremes taken by contemporary Western chefs to be surprising. At Rana Raj, an Indian restaurant on Central's Wyndham Street, chef Shishupal Singh serves a banana chaat. Chaat is a snack that hails from Mumbai, India. The salad that Singh creates combines all the elements of a good salad (colour, texture, flavour) in an innovative, mind-bending way. Bananas (the usual kind, not savoury green bananas), are mixed with tamarind sauce and masala spices. Crunch is supplied by chopped carrots and cucumber. Coriander adds a heady fragrance, while green chilli gives warmth and depth. It's salad, but maybe not as you know it. Since bananas are prone to brown quickly when left out, chef Singh insists the dish should be promptly devoured once made. The same dictate was offered by every expert we spoke to on demystifying the salad-making process at home. Leafy greens have a nasty habit of absorbing moisture in the immediate environment. Most often, at least with Western salads, this comes via the presence of vinaigrettes or creamier dressings such as ranch or mayonnaise. Vinegar is a particular enemy to greens, as its acid burns and scars leaves. A second too long and that once lovely lettuce is limp. An unblended salad is incomplete, says Chris Rork, the owner of the Dressed salad chains. His stores list close to 100 ingredients, with imaginative dressings such as blueberry pomegranate and a chipotle aioli. Rork's secret to successful salad-making lies in advance planning. Pre-chopping and combining the salad's ingredients ahead of serving allows flavours to blend, transforming them into a complete dish, rather than a plateful of disparate elements. 'We've all had that one salad where we take a first bite and we say: 'Right, there's a tomato', and then we take a second bite and this time it's cucumber. The third bite may be a crouton. When everything is blended, there is a symphony of tastes together.' But hold off on dressings until the salad is ready to be served. Rork says 30 minutes to make and consume is ideal. A note on oils and vinegars: choices for these have changed in recent years. While a good grade of oil is more flavourful, it needn't be too costly. Good virgin olive oil is all that is needed for a basic oil and vinegar dressing, says Hugo's Sawyer. With the bounty of vinegars on offer, from wine and champagne styles to aged balsamics, should we shell out on posh slosh? 'Normally, the cheaper the vinegar the nastier it is,' says Sawyer. 'Some of the aged balsamics are nice and sweet, but once it's mixed together, no one is going to say: 'Oh wow, that's 10-year-old vinegar.'' So go mid-range at least, on both counts. For an authentic Japanese salad, balsamic is skipped altogether. 'Dressings for Japanese salads are very different as they use either sesame or fruit vinegar as the base,' says chef Danny Chiu at Taku in Soho. He serves variations on seaweed salads, with seaweeds that resemble glass noodles and pickled ginger on the basic set lunch, and a more complex, refreshing four-seaweed salad with wafu dressing, which mixes tangy fruit vinegar and vegetable oil a la carte. Again, he says, it's best not to add until serving. So there you have it. A guide to the makings of a great salad: search for the freshest you can find; build in flavour and texture - good salad, like good wine, should have top notes and bottom notes and a satisfying finish make it and eat it fast; oh yes, and remember to act like a chef. Hugo's caesar salad Recreate that classic Hugo's recipe right in your kitchen. 200g baby romaine lettuce 20g crispy double-smoked bacon chips 25g croutons 40g parmesan cheese 2 egg yolks 30g French mustard 35g anchovies (finely chopped or mashed) 15g garlic (finely chopped or mashed) Worcestershire sauce Tabasco sauce Pinch of salt Pinch of white pepper 50ml olive oil Squeeze of lemon juice Put mustard, egg yolk, anchovies, garlic, in the bowl. Add the olive oil slowly while stirring until the sauce reaches a 'creamy' consistency. Squeeze the lemon juice into the sauce, then add a few twists of black pepper. Add Worcestershire, Tabasco and grated parmesan cheese to the dressing (according to taste). Taste the sauce and add salt and/or white pepper if necessary. Add baby romaine lettuce and toss it with the dressing. Put the salad on the plate. Grate Parmesan cheese on top and add croutons and bacon. Add a few twists of black pepper. Ready to serve. Chef's note: use utensils to mix the salad because warm hands will soften the lettuce. Taku's Four seaweed seafood with wafu vinaigrette Danny Chiu gives us this refreshing, nutritious Japanese salad. For the dressing: Fruit vinegar (available at most big supermarkets) Sugar Vegetable oil For the salad: Seaweed: Wakame, Bidoro and two different varieties of Tosaga Japanese cucumbers, sliced or finely chopped Cherry tomatoes, halved Any leafy greens, to taste Soak the seaweed in iced water for about one hour, depending on the variety - some seaweeds have a stronger iodine flavour than others. Drain and rinse the seaweed. Toss cucumber, tomatoes and veggies, and mix together. For the dressing, mix together three parts fruit vinegar, two parts sugar and one part vegetable oil. Chef's note: seaweed bought at supermarkets is usually dried and needs to be soaked to be revived. See packaging for instructions. Lotus' crispy salmon and watermelon Enjoy the wonders of this Southeast Asian delight. 1 salmon fillet (100g) 300g watermelon cubes 1 thumb of ginger, peeled and julienned finely 1 red shallot sliced thinly 1 cucumber, sliced thinly lengthways 1 kaffir lime leaf, julienned 1 long red chilli, julienned Handfuls of mint and coriander For the green chilli nahm prik: 2 garlic cloves roughly chopped 1 red shallot roughly chopped 1 long green chilli roughly chopped 40g light palm sugar to taste 60ml fish sauce to taste 60ml lime juice to taste Season salmon with salt and set aside while preparing other ingredients. For green chilli nahm prik roast all ingredients until golden in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Cool slightly then pound in a mortar and pestle to a paste. Add palm sugar and pound to break up sugar. Add fish sauce and lime juice. Adjust to taste and set aside. Preheat oil in a deep fat fryer or deep saucepan to 180 degrees. Pat salmon dry with absorbent paper, then deep fry until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper then coarsely flake. Combine remaining ingredients and salmon in a bowl, drizzle over green chilli nahm prik, toss and serve Chef's note: always make sure that a salad is made just before it is eaten to ensure maximum freshness and crispness.