In the interests of bringing the fine season of Spring on with a rush — after all we’re already a few days into April — I’ve decided that this classic Salade Lyonnaise recipe should be a message to the weather gods.
Asparagus is particularly fine here at the moment, big and bright green, but the dish I like to make with asparagus is served with parmesan cheese — not very French or Catalan, but it does involve poached eggs, which I have not tackled on our Grand Tour yet.
What I also noticed at the markets was lots of great frisée, curly lettuce. It has a slightly bitter, peppery taste, which is why it’s often mixed with other types of lettuce, and it brings something crunchy to the lettuce mix of a sald. But frisée on its own is great with poached eggs and is a super Spring dish.
Salade Lyonnaise was my solution for bringing these two ingredients together, and while the dish is not from around this part of France, the ingredients to make it are all superb here. Just don’t tell the locals until after I’ve left the region!
The salad basically consists of soft poached eggs atop the frisée, and some croutons, crispy bacon pieces, and a vinaigrette dressing of olive oil and vinegar mixed throughout. The idea is that you get some frisée, egg white and yolk, a crouton and some bacon in every mouthful. It’s a brilliant mix of textures and a perfect marriage of flavours.
The other factor in choosing this dish was the pork — poitrine salée. This pork belly is phenomenal here in this part of France and is an essential ingredient in French cooking more generally, remembering the motto ‘fat is flavour’.
While this is a very straightforward dish, I know that poaching eggs isn’t a relaxing weekend pastime for some cooks! It can be daunting and frustrating, ending up overcooked and stringy, with broken yolks, and cold when it gets to the table! In fact, even after years of making them I still have not settled on a definitive way to poach eggs.
My current favourite way to poach eggs is in the recipe — no vinegar used and you need fresh free-range eggs. And please do not use one of these, it’s just wrong! Fresh works best for poaching and free-range eggs simply have a better tasting yolk. When they’re cooked, the whites should just be set but the yolk runny. If you don’t like runny eggs or you can’t eat eggs that aren’t fully cooked, then choose another dish to make. Anyone who tells you that you should poach the eggs for 3–4 minutes doesn’t like eggs or is paranoid.
I generally do two eggs at a time. The problem comes when cooking for lots of people. By the time you’ve finished the last eggs the first ones are cold. The best solution is to place the eggs in an ice bath to halt the cooking process once the two minutes in the pan is up. When your salad is prepared in the bowls, plunge the eggs back in the near-boiling water for 10–15 seconds to reheat. Amazingly, they will still be soft and they’ll be hot. This is how most restaurants do it, especially when they have a high volume favourite like Eggs Benedict. It’s worth it! Toast your success with some Champagne!
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 dash of olive oil
- ½ baguette sliced
- 100 grams 0.22 pounds sliced bacon (we’re using poitrine salée)
- 250 grams 1/2 pound frisée — tear up those pieces!
- 4 large fresh eggs (the fresher the better for poaching)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 parts extra virgin olive oil
- 1 part vinegar whichever type you like
- optional items to taste:
- A little Dijon mustard
- A little lemon juice
- Freshly ground salt and pepper
- In a saucepan over high heat bring a couple of inches of water to the boil — you should have small bubbles rather than a rolling boil.
- Heat a non-stick pan to medium heat and add the butter and olive oil.
- Add the baguette slices and cook each side until golden brown.
- Remove the baguette slices and add the bacon to the pan. Cook until crisp.
- If you’re a pork lover (and not on a diet — these two things may be mutually exclusive), set the rendered pork fat aside to add to the vinaigrette. It’s delicious!
- To poach the eggs, break each egg into a small tea-cup and gently immerse the cup into the water allowing the water to start cooking the egg in the cup. Then gently release the egg into the water. Start a timer for two minutes.
- At two minutes, the whites should be set but the yolk runny. Remove with a slotted spoon.
- Chop the toasted baguette into crouton-sized pieces, except for four pieces.
- Place the frisée leaves into a salad bowl and add the bacon and croutons.
- To make the vinaigrette, pour the olive oil and vinegar into a sterilized jar with your optional extras. Shake vigorously. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- When your poached eggs are ready — or ready to be reheated — mix the salad with the vinaigrette and place into the bowls in a nice mound. Place the piece of baguette on top.
- Place the poached egg on top of the piece of baguette and serve. Remember to offer salt and pepper to taste.