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Sunday, May 01, 2011

 

Riffing on salad Lyonnaise: meaty, vegetarian, vegan


by Nanette Geller

Salad Lyonnais is a French bistro classic. Simple: frisée or other hearty greens tossed with a hot bacon dressing and topped with a poached egg. We love it.

Frisée doesn’t do well in hot weather, so we’re getting to the end of the season. I always check for it on Saturdays at SKA Tropicals and if they have frisée we’re having salad Lyonnais for dinner.

I order both duck and chicken eggs from Blue Lotus Farm, so I know they’re fresh. Chicken eggs are fine, but poached duck eggs are truly luxurious. The yolks are larger and richer.

A note on poaching eggs: most recipes say to poach them for 3 to 5 minutes but I find that anything over 2 minutes leaves the yolks too firm. Maybe it’s because I start with room temperaure eggs. I bring about 2 inches of water to a boil in a skillet with a cover. I don’t add vinegar, which isn’t needed if the eggs are fresh (and I wouldn’t eat soft-cooked eggs if they’re not perfectly fresh). Break each egg into a separate dish and slip them into the water. Turn the heat down to keep the water at a bare simmer. Cover and set the timer for 90 seconds. By the time I actually get the eggs out, using a slotted spoon, it’s almost 2 minutes and the eggs are perfect. Drain briefly on a paper towel.

 

Lyonnaise 2

 

Wash the frisée and tear or cut into bite-size pieces.

Cut thick-sliced bacon crosswise into strips. Cook slowly until most of the fat is rendered. I like to remove the bacon before making the dressing, then add it to the salad at the end. That way it stays crisp.

Sauté some chopped shallot or onion and a pinch of salt in the bacon fat until soft and just starting to brown. The salt helps the onion to soften by releasing its water. I use either shallots or red onion from Pit Farm.

Add red wine vinegar, coarsely ground black pepper, and a touch of Dijon mustard. Add a bit of salt if needed but taste first because the bacon and mustard both add salt. Take off the heat; it can be reheated before adding to the greens.

While the eggs are poaching, toss the salad with the hot dressing and divide onto individual plates. Add the bacon and top with the poached eggs.

The soft egg yolk combines with the dressing for an incredibly rich flavor and unctuous mouth feel that contrasts perfectly with the slight bitterness and hearty texture of the greens.

Here, I added roasted Yukon gold potatoes from Milner Farm and crumbled ricotta salata cheese. Ricotta salata is made from sheep's milk ricotta that is salted and aged. It’s similar to feta but firmer and less salty. I often find it at Kokua Market.


 

Lyonnaise 1

 

Here, I’ve used guanciale instead of bacon and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.

I find guanciale at Whole Foods. I’ve also used pancetta. All delicious.

Cured meats such as bacon, pancetta, and guanciale are loaded with umami, the “fifth taste” which seems to make the entire dish taste better. True Parmigiano-Reggiano also is very high in umami (unlike generic “parmesan” cheeses). Using both makes this combination exceptionally satisfying.


 

 

vegetarian lyonnaise

 

I sometimes make this ovo-lacto vegetarian variation using fresh shiitake instead of bacon. We enjoy it just as much.

Mushrooms, especially shiitake, have lots of umami which gives them a “meaty” flavor and makes them a good stand-in for bacon. The shiitake texture also is “meatier” than other mushrooms. Still, any fresh mushroom, even inexpensive white mushrooms, would be good.

I start by sautéing thick-sliced fresh shiitake in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat. When sautéing mushrooms, don’t add salt until they’re cooked through. Adding salt at the start would draw out the water content, so they steam and wind up limp, instead of sautéing to a slightly crisp exterior with tender interior.

The mushrooms will immediately absorb all the oil but there’s no need to add more. As they cook, they will start to release some of the oil. When they are done, sprinkle with salt to taste and remove from the pan. Don’t wash the pan, which should have a flavorful residue from the shiitake.

Add some chopped onion or shallot to the pan with a pinch of salt, and a little more olive oil if needed. To up the umami quotient, I sometimes add a couple of diced sun-dried tomatoes with a little of their oil; you will not need to add any extra olive oil. Sauté until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown. As with the classic version, add vinegar, Dijon mustard, coarsely-ground black pepper and salt to taste, toss the hot dressing with the greens, plate individually and top with a poached egg. Here, I added shaved  Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Use a vegetable peeler to shave hard cheese.)

 

 

vegan lyonnaise

 

I wondered if I could come up with a vegan main dish salad that would be as satisfying as salad Lyonnaise. The base, of course, is the vegetarian shiitake salad minus the egg and cheese, which by itself makes a wonderful first course. But I wanted a proper main dish that would stand on its own merits and could be enjoyed by everyone.

It always irritates me when I see vegetarians and vegans offered a main course that simply removes the meat or dairy, leaving what amounts to a side dish. I also don’t care for meat substitutes. Tofu sometimes works, but it can be a non sequitur. Here, it just wouldn’t give me the texture and flavor I was looking for.

I decided on cannellini beans, which have a lovely creamy texture and mild flavor. In general canned beans can be pretty good, but the canned cannellini I’ve tried all had a mushy texture and tinny taste so I always use dried beans. Just soak overnight and cook until tender in plenty of water with a couple of cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, a few black peppercorns, a glug of olive oil, and maybe a sprig of fresh thyme. Add salt towards the end. And make enough for leftovers.

I marinated the beans with olive oil, fresh thyme, and a little minced garlic. I wouldn’t call them a stand-in for the poached egg, but they did provide a nice creamy texture to contrast with the sturdy greens and the flavor balanced the sharp dressing without clashing.

I still wanted something to make this vegan salad seem special, not just an adaptation of a dish that normally contains meat. I tried papadums toasted briefly under the broiler. Perfect! The crispy, salty, savory papadum was just the finishing touch it needed.

OK, this is getting pretty far from the original. I don’t think I can get away with calling it a “vegan salad Lyonnaise.” But I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to anyone, including carnivores.




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