Thursday, 5 May 2011

Salade Frisée aux Lardons

This might sound a little odd, but actually like so many French dishes that sound a little daunting, it tastes ambrosial. The first time I had it was in a gorgeous little restaurant in the Rue de Mail in Paris simply named Chez Georges (or George’s Place). Established in 1964, it is a traditional French bistro near the banks of the Seine, lined with mirrors and decorated in the style of the 1920‘s and 30‘s. It’s a place my husband used to go regularly with his parents when he was a child, and although he had not been there in years, as soon as he mentioned who he was, it appeared they recognised him. We were welcomed like old friends, treated like royalty, and even offered ‘un digestif’ (a glass of liqueur) at the end of the meal free of charge. Our son was about 14 at the time, and in France young people are allowed to drink in restaurants with a meal, and he was thrilled to be given his own glass, just as generously full as the ones given to us.

But back to the Salade Frisée. This is one of Chez George’s signature dishes, traditionally served as a starter, and my husband recommended we all order it. Crispy bits of bacon (lardons) are fried and used to garnish a lightly dressed salad topped with poached eggs. As the egg yolk drips into the lettuce it becomes part of the dressing and contrast of this with the salty tang of the bacon makes this one of my favourite salads in the whole wide world.

Traditionally a type of green known as frisée is used for this salad. It’s a woody, frizzy type of chicory and it’s bitter flavour works really well. However, when I am making this dish at home I use assorted mixed lettuces as frisée can be quite hard to find in England, and any I have had outside of France tends to taste a bit too bitter for me.

I wrote a post about poached eggs earlier. Despite what you may have been lead to believe, making poached eggs the old fashioned way is actually incredibly easy. So if you don’t already know, do click on the link to read my post about how to prepare this incredibly healthy fast food.

I like to serve two eggs with each portion of salad if I am serving it for lunch, or one egg if I am serving it as a starter. It works really well in a menu where the main course is steak frites (steak and French fries).

To serve four people, you need:

1 cup of chopped lardons (small chunks of bacon)
(I also use chopped Pancetta - it’s not authentic, but it works, and I can buy it ready chopped.)
4 eggs (8 eggs if this is to be a main course)
4 - 6 cups mixed lettuces, washed, well drained and torn in bite size chunks (I confess I have used bagged salad more than once.)
3 tablespoons mild olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar

You will need 4 medium plates for serving this as a starter, 4 large plates if this is to be a main dish.

Place the lettuces in a large bowl.

In a large shaker or clean jam jar with a lid, shake together the oil, vinegar, mustard and sugar. Pour over the lettuces and toss together.

Boil your water ready for the poached eggs. Divide the salad between the plates.

Meanwhile, fry the lardons over medium heat until they are crispy. Drain, set aside and keep warm.

Ask everyone to come and sit down at the table. This is not a dish to be served cold. When they have done so, poach the eggs as per my previous post.

Top the salads with one or two eggs, depending on how you are serving this. Sprinkle with the bacon lardons and serve immediately. Encourage people to break the poached eggs open so the egg can bathe the salad in gorgeousness. Wait for everyone to take a bite, and for the quizzical expressions on their faces to turn to joyful amazement. It won’t take long.

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