This is the classic wilted spinach salad recipe with mushrooms and a warm bacon vinaigrette you've been looking for. This was on the menu at my first restaurant for years. I learned it from a chef from Italy. It's a fresh and healthy, low carb salad that doesn't get bogged down by thick dressings.
This salad recipe has followed me for a while, subconsciously. Yes it's just a spinach and mushroom salad, yes the ingredients (minus the hen of the woods) are not new in any way, shape or form, since every Perkins and Applebee's probably has a spinach salad with bacon dressing.
At the same time, it's a completely new salad that represents my growth as a cook, in three particular stages from when I was 17, until now.
Variations in Restaurants
The first time I made a spinach salad with "hot bacon" dressing it was at a steakhouse around my hometown of Willmar Minnesota called Melvin's on the Lake.
At Melvin's, everything for the salad came out of a bag or a jug, including the dressing: an opaque substance from Sysco that looked like wallboard paste with something only distantly resembling bacon in it. As you can expect, it tasted like the ingredients sound.
The second time I made the salad was working for a chef from Rome at Trattoria Da Vinci in St. Paul-it was a little better this time. Imported pancetta took the place of the jugged dressing, and the spinach was actually tossed with the dressing, as opposed to the dressing just being glugged on top.
Instead of topping it with sliced hard boiled eggs like I did at Melvin's, we grated the yolks like cheese, which I always thought was a fun touch.
We used red wine vinegar to de-glaze the pan too, part of what makes the salad taste so good. This time I ate the salad, it was delicious.
At my first restaurant I made the version I'm sharing with you here, with hen of the woods or maitake mushrooms. The difference from the other two salads from the past is that all of the ingredients are the best that I can find: good local spinach, high quality red wine vinegar, homemade bacon, local eggs, and or course local wild mushrooms.
It's the best version of the old salad I've had, and we regularly had people tell us it was not only the best spinach salad they'd had, but the best salad, period.
Well, except for one time a guy said his mushroom spinach salad wasn't "wilted enough", but he was a crochety old guy that complained about everything from the size of his coffee cup to the way the server described the dessert menu.
Adapting the recipe
There's a few different ways you can adapt this. Here's a few ideas.
- Good, fresh spinach from a garden is the best, but baby spinach from a bag will work too.
- Some people like a little chopped red onion mixed in. I don't, but you can add a small amount if you like. I soak my cut red onions in cold water for 15 minutes before adding to the salad at the end.
- If you serve it with a slice of bread and some cheese or a cup of soup it can make a good light meal or lunch.
I have a few other recipes you might like if you enjoy this too, like Brown Butter-Sage Hen of the Woods, and Simple Roasted Hen of the Woods.
Hen of the Woods-Spinach Salad, With Bacon Vinaigrette
- Cast iron skillet
- large mixing bowl
- 3 ounces fresh hen of the woods mushrooms broken into small clusters roughly the size of your thumb or larger
- 4 ounces fresh spinach washed and cleaned
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil, such as extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons high quality red wine vinegar
- 2 hard boiled eggs: whites sliced yolks reserved for grating
- 2 ounces high quality slab bacon diced ½ inch
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the bacon and the olive oil in a cast iron skillet or saute pan and render slowly until lightly browned.
- Push the bacon to one side of the pan, then add the hen of the woods and cook until caramelized, about 5 minutes.
- Season the mushrooms to taste with salt and pepper, deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar and stir to release the bacon drippings.
- Pour the hot mixture over the spinach in a salad bowl, add the egg whites, toss, taste the seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Divide the mixture evenly between two room temperature salad plates, grate the yolks with a cheese or microplane grater over each plate (they may crumble a bit, that's ok) and serve immediately.
Your career is a sham. I could get 6 better versions at the Mall of America's food court served under a sneeze shield with artificial bakon bits. And egg yokes ain't cheese. Cheese is cheese. Plus your plates and serving sizes are too damn small.
The Old Guy
PS- could I sub sorrel or lambs quarter for the spinach?
Lol. Thanks for the laugh, it's a lot of fun for me to remember the in's and out's of those old places now, and I can still hear guests complaining. Lamb's quarter is great to sub here if it's young and tender, sorrel I would only use as an accent.
Michael Patrick McCarty
Most excellent! I just found your site. Mushrooms fascinate me, and I surly love to eat them. I am still a bit wary about my identification skills, and collecting the things that won't kill me. Can you tell me - can I find The Hens in Colorado?
Holy crap! I have a similar experience with a spinach salad! For me, it was a French bistro classic, spinach salad with chicken livers. That salad has haunted me for over thirty years now...such simple ingredients, but when everything is at its peak and prepared with careful attention and respect, it elevates the ordinary to sublime.
As for hens...i found a few specimens rather early in the fall, then the rains stopped! It's wet again though, so I'm hoping later this week will be good.
Oh...and I may or may not have a quarter slab of bacon hanging in my bedroom at the moment 🙂
I remember a thousand years ago the first time I had hot bacon dressing on a spinach salad. It probably wasn't all that great, but it made a big impression. Since then, many encounters, some good, most just-okay to not-so-good. I like your take on it. I was inspired to do a blewit version last week—maybe my last fresh-foraged Minnesota fungi effort of the year—and my S.O. delivered a rare rave review. I thought it was good, too. The grated egg yolk is brilliant. I wonder how it would work with morels. Seems weird, but I have a bunch of dried, so maybe I'll give it a shot.