Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lardons and Croutons


When the temperature is in the high 20s and low 30s (Celsius), I try to do any cooking in the early morning with the shutters closed and Radio Montaillou playing its engaging mix of vintage North American songs, French hits and--read very slowly--the weather in English. 

     A couple of days ago, I started by making croutons to use up the tag ends of baguette. A smidge of olive oil in the big non-stick pan, then the bread cubes tossed in, crumbs and all. I had vague plans for the toasted breadcrumbs. Maybe an ingredient in the stuffed round courgettes I plan to make later this week? But absent-mindedly (while singing along with Charles Aznavour) threw them out. 

    Croutons done, it was a short mental leap to dealing with the package of lardons that has been sitting in the fridge for the past week (or two) and is fast approaching its "best before" date. 

     Even though they are really only little strips of bacon, there's something about the geometric precision of lardons that elevates them to a higher culinary sphere. Once they were crisped, I drained them on paper towel, and poured the melted bacon fat into a little jar. Maybe I'll make a British variation on croutons by cooking the next batch of stale baguette cubes in it.
     Monday, at Mirepoix market, we bought a huge, frizzly-leaved frisée. These lettuces, unlike all the others, the sucrines, the feuille de chène, and others are sold by weight. On this already simmering day, I didn't think we'd want anything heavy for supper so the classic French bistro salad seemed the perfect idea. 

     Traditional recipes call for lardons to be cooked à la minute and the still-warm fat to be poured over the greens. Too heavy for me. I also deviated from the classic recipe by adding thin rounds of green onion to the torn frisée. All I had to do at the last minute was poach a couple of eggs, also bought at yesterday's market from the elderly lady who sits near the wine truck selling them out of a basket. Fresh? Unlike the city eggs I'm used to, these didn't fall apart into vaporous swirls of white, but stayed round, plump and all in one piece. 

     The salad tossed, the croutons and lardons sprinkled on, the egg on top...à table. As we broke into the soft eggs, the yolk combined with the dressing, a glorious mouth-mix of oil, sharpness, and bitter green leaves. There are good reasons it's a classic. 

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