As with most things formerly detestable to me, I had just been eating it the wrong way. First, a true healthy head of frisée isn’t nearly as twig-like as the bagged mesculn mix variety. It should be remarkably tender, smell slightly sweet, its leaves almost fluffy. Then there is the color--which, as you can see, is not the limp off-white you might normally see, but a rather bright spring green color. It reminds me a little of the first young crocus shoots, all hopeful, vibrant and bold.
Like radicchio, its bitter chicory crunch can be tempered easily when served slightly wilted. Suddenly, the friséee’s bitterness caramelizes a little, its fronds soften, and it becomes the perfect foil for the salty, sweet, or sour. It’s great with pomegranate seeds and prosciutto, or just lemon juice with a bit of ricotta salata sprinkled over the top. There’s a multitude of inventions I’ve tried, but somehow I always return to the first way I had frisee prepared for me, to my first revelation of its wonders: La Salade Frisée aux Lardons.
Tossing the frisée in the hot fat wilts the greens just slightly, so they retain their snap but lose that scratchy texture. Next, the vinaigrette! Oh, the vinaigrette! You take any kind of red wine vinegar, toss that in the pan while it’s still searing hot from the bacon fat, and use it to scrape up all the brown cracklings still stuck at the bottom. The vinaigrette reduces into a nicely sweet, almost viscous syrup—which plays well with the crisp lardons and the bitter greens and the runny yolk of a poached egg.
I had forgotten about how much I loved this salad until I was at the market and saw this beautiful bunch of frisée grown nearby. Spring must be on its way—the local produce is beginning to make shy appearances here or there, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Not wanting to jinx the string of beautiful weather we’ve been having here, I’ll be timidly embracing the first signs spring and marrying them with more wintry dishes like this salad until it’s all asparagus shoots and strawberries again.
Salade Frisee Aux LardonsAdapted from a recipe by Anne WillanThis salad is classic, and I rarely confer with any recipe when I make it. I taste and adjust as I go--which is the best way for all cooks, especially ones who don't like to mince too much time at the stove. Do it once, and I'm sure you'll remember this, too. The key is to make sure your friséee is extra dry and crisp after you've washed it, or it will wilt too much from the hot fat.INGREDIENTS:1 head of frisée, washed and thoroughly dried4 eggs1/2 cup red wine vinegar6 oz. lean bacon, cut into 1/2 inch slices1 Tbs. Vegetable oil1-2 shallots, thinly slicedPepper, to tasteDIRECTIONS:1. Bring a 2 qt. saucepan of water to boil, Add 3 Tbs. of the vinegar to the water, then crack an egg into a ramekin, lowering the egg into the water to help spin the egg-whites around the yolk. Repeat with all eggs. Lower the heat and poach the eggs until the whites are firm but the yolks are still nice and soft, about 3 minutes is al you’ll need. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a plate (if you’d like them warm, like me) or a bowl of cold water. Once in the cold water bath, they can store in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours ahead of serving time.2. Place the shallot slices and frisée, torn into bite-size pieces, in a large bowl.3. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. If there’s a lot of excess fat, pour some off, but leave 4 Tbs. behind in the pan with the lardons.4. Now it’s time for the magic to begin. Pour the remaining hot fat and lardons over the frisée and toss quickly to coat and wilt the greens a bit.5. Add the remaining 5 Tbs. of vinegar to the hot pan, being careful to stand back so you don’t singe your eyebrows. Bring this to a boil, and stir to loosen the pan juices and crumbly bits. Boil up to 1 minute to tame the acid of the vinegar, then pour over the salad mixture and toss again.6. At this point, sprinkle the salad with salt and pepper, then taste to adjust. Divide the salad amongst four plates.7. Use the slotted spoon to place an egg in the center of each salad. The yolk will act as a binder for the vinaigrette. Serve immediately.Serves 4.