Sunday, April 15, 2012

Salade Lyonnaise

This is a spring salad you could make a light meal out of. Or breakfast.
No wimpy salad, this. It's a bistro lunch that's got everything you need.

It could be one of those rare "if-I-close-my-eyes-I-can-easily-imagine-I'm-not-eating-a-salad" salads. But you'll probably want to keep your eyes open because it's pretty much the Matisse of salads (sans blue), especially if you put some ripe tomatoes in it. 

The poached egg is like the icing on the cake. When broken, the yolk becomes a brightly colored, silky addition to the vinaigrette. It all comes together as creamy, crispy, smokey, sharp, smooth... and the tomatoes will add a nice little sweet pop.

When you poach the eggs for this salad, you'll mix a little vinegar into the water.  This helps to keep the eggs more compact so that they form a nice little package which is perched atop the greens just prior to serving. Another thing is that fresh eggs are better for poaching than those that are a little older since they'll stay comparatively more neat and the whites won't spread as much (conversely, eggs that are a little older are easier to peel after being hard boiled).

Because it's a meal type of salad, you'll want some good bacon. Not that you're eating TONS of bacon, you just want what you have to be a nice bit of porkiness. 
I understand that in the quest for good bacon, one can search quite a while and those searches can come up relatively fruitless again and again. It's not a problem, just do your best. I guess what I'm trying to say is that bacon is important since it's a main part of the salad, but that less-than-ideal bacon really isn't the end of the world. Then again, it's probably a good idea to know a good butcher.

You want meaty bacon. Substantial bacon. Thick-cut bacon. Manly rashers.
If you want to go for pancetta, that's fine too... just cook it until it's nice and crisp. 

Salade Lyonnaise
serves 6

8 oz mixed spring greens
8 oz bacon
2 T olive oil
6 large eggs
1 T white vinegar
2 1/2 T Sherry or red wine vinegar
2 t Dijon mustard
2 T minced shallot- about 1 small smallot  (or 2 minced cloves of garlic)
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional: cherry tomatoes and croutons

Wash greens and dry well. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a dry skillet, cook the bacon until crisp, and set aside to drain on paper towels.
While the bacon cooks, poach the eggs. In a saucepan, bring about a quart and a half of water to a gentle boil. Add the white vinegar and swirl to combine. Crack 2-3 eggs in small, individual bowls. When the water comes back to a very gentle boil, carefully tip in the eggs at water level. Poach eggs about 4 minutes or until white is set, but the yolk is still runny. With a slotted spoon, remove the eggs to a bowl of warm water and repeat with the remaining eggs.
Divide the greens among 6 salad plates.
Remove all but 4 T bacon grease from the pan and add 2 T olive oil along with the minced shallot. Reduce the heat, saute the shallot until soft, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pan, and remove the pan from the heat (if using garlic, just add it to the warmed oils, scrape the bottom of the pan, and remove the pan from the heat). Add the Dijon mustard, whisk, then add the red wine or sherry vinegar to the warm shallot-oil mixture and whisk again until combined. Add a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Taste the dressing and add salt and pepper as necessary.
Spoon the warm dressing over the prepared greens and crumble bacon over the top. If using croutons and/or cherry tomatoes, sprinkle them on the salads.  Carefully remove poached eggs from their warm bath with a slotted spoon and blot to dry if necessary. Crown each salad with a poached egg and sprinkle each egg with a little salt and pepper.

*Croutons are traditional for this salad, and packaged ones were never my favorite. Once upon a time when I used to make them, I would just use a chunk of good French bread (day-old if possible). Cut the bread into rough 1 inch pieces. Toss in a bowl with some olive oil, a couple cloves minced garlic, Kosher salt and fresh pepper. Be careful not to completely douse the bread with olive oil- you can always add a little to the pan while you're cooking if you need it. Toast in a dry skillet, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently towards the end until you get the desired toasty doneness. Salty garlickyness, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.