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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Frisee Salad: And Then Some

Salad Lyonnaise is pretty common fare at bistros in France, especially in  the Bouchons of Lyon.  Traditionally, it is a salad made up of frisee, a bitter type of chicory, toasted croutons, rendered bacon lardons tossed in a mustard vinaigrette, and topped with a poached egg.  I had a fabulous version of it once,  Country Frisee Salad, at the Odeon Restaurant in NYC after walking for miles in and around the Tribecca part of town.  In its traditional and straightforward form, it is pure, light, and simple.
On the few occasions when I can find frisee, I have made it at home.  It is a great do ahead dish that can be assembled at the last minute.  Yesterday, after a fantastic lunch of oysters on the half shell, we found ourselves at a particular grocery that had fantastic produce in stock, and most importantly, beautiful frisee. Sold.
I did want something a bit more substantial as a dinner entree, so I played around with the traditional approach to Salad Lyonnaise and came up with a multi layered flavor-explosion version.  I am a firm believer in rules, especially in the kitchen. However,  you have to know the rules to break them.
The Frisee.
Frisee is a gorgeous thing. A tangled mesh of lacy greens.  I trimmed off the root end and outer green leaves of the frisee, separated the lace, spun it dry in a salad spinner, wrapped it paper towels and chilled it in the refrigerator until it was time to eat.
The Lardons.
In a heavy cast iron skillet, I sauteed uniform slices of thick slab-cut bacon to render their fat and create crunchy lardons. Once cooked,  I drained the lardons and reserved the bacon fat.
The Extras.
For more rule breaking depth of flavor, I roasted halved grape tomatoes, pitted black olives, garlic, and onions slivers in olive oil, salt, and pepper until caramelized and tender. While they roasted, I buttered and pan-toasted cubes of french bread for the croutons.
The  Organic Eggs.
The poached eggs are the crown of the salad.  I have an egg poacher, but prefer a more rustic poached egg.  In a large saute pan, I brought 2 inches of water and 2 tbls. of vinegar to a simmer, cracked 4 eggs into individual ramekins, carefully slid the eggs into the simmering water-vinegar bath, and gently lapped the hot water over the tops of the eggs to help them set. 2 minutes max for a perfect runny soft poached egg.  I carefully lifted them out of the water and placed them into a water bath to hold.
The Dressing.
There are different schools of thought about the dressing.  I borrowed from all of them. After heating the rendered bacon fat in the skillet until it sizzled, I tossed in minced shallots, a heaping tablespoon of Maille dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, a dash of sugar, and Thomas Keller inspired fresh minced chives, parsley, and chervil.
Rule Breaker.
While the dressing was still hot, I tossed it with the frisse, bacon lardons, croutons, oven roasted tomatoes, black olives, garlic, and onions.  I added thinly sliced radishes, fresh whole grape tomatoes, generous grinds of black pepper, and fleur de sel. The poached eggs were perched atop, showered with fresh minced chives, and drizzled with olive oil.
Un. Believable.  The layers of flavor just kept coming and coming. The hot tart fatty bacon dressing wilted the frisse just enough to take the bitter edge off.  Although it looks delicate, frisee can take a beating. The herbed dressing clung to every tat of the lacy leaves and dripped with richness.  The briny black olives had deep undertones of saltiness that complimented the sweet caramelized soft roasted tomatoes and onions.  The fresh grape tomatoes popped with squirts of mouth cleansing wetness while the pungent radishes added crunchy texture.
One slice through the jiggling soft poached egg released the runny yolk down into the salad, dripping and oozing a stream of rich yellow gelatinous flavor. It moved slowly like lava wrapping around the ingredients, creating pools of loveliness.  Eventually, the runny yolks swirled into the bottom of the large bowls and mixed with the warm bacon dressing creating a moving edible unctuous mosiac of yolk, herbs, and bacon fat. Spoonable.

It was definately not a traditional  Salad Lyonnaise. It broke all of the rules.  Didn't matter.  Didn't care.

Sometimes, good is just good. 

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