Thursday, October 6, 2011

Excuses, excuses...and a look at salades composées.

   Over a month of blog-silence needs explaining so here goes. First, I twisted my ankle. Okay, I don't write with my foot but it slowed me down so that everything took longer and blogging took longer. Then, a head cold. Same reason. Then family and friends staying with us, which was all huge fun but, in the midst of all the days out, lengthy and wonderful dinners, and many, many bottles of wine, something had to give--and that was blogging time.
   Now, we're in Paris for a couple of weeks and, before I get into the heart-stopping delights of being here, I'm determined to finish off a number of partially written posts and write on a few topics that have been kicking around at the back of my  brain.
    Have I ever written about French salads? At length? A simple salade verte is just that, often just lettuce (by the way, lettuce here is called "salade"). Once you get into salade composée country, anything goes. A "composed salade"-- literal translation--sounds like a prim and proper dish, something out of the French equivalent of Jane Austen. Au contraire, these are often lusty Rabelaisian assemblages that fling together vegetables, meats, and even fruits.
   We often order them if we go out for lunch. The usual basket of bread, a jug of water, a pichet of rosé, and a big healthy-looking plateful of salad. What else do you want when the temperature is in the high twenties?
   At home, especially in the summer, we eat the following at least once a month:
   1) Salade Lyonnaise. Salad greens, preferably frisée, sometimes dandelion greens from the garden, crisped warm lardons, tomato wedges, chopped onion, chopped chives sometimes, a mustard-y dressing and, added at the last moment, to sit shakily on top, ready to burst and lavish its warm yolk over everything else, a just-poached egg. God, the poetry. I mustn't forget to tell you that I also ring the salad bowls with croutons and warm cooked cubes of potato to turn it into a meal.
   2) Salade Niçoise, and you know what goes into that. Tuna, hard-boiled egg criss-crossed with anchovies and decorated with a blob of mayonnaise, black olives, scarlet rings of red pepper, cold potatoes, haricots verts, wedges of tomato, sliced green or red onion, all on a bed of whatever lettuce takes your fancy.

For the life of me, I can't remember what this particular salad was called. Place: a little outdoor restaurant in Minerve. Accompaniment: a pizza garnished with chorizo, anchovies, peppers... But to return to the salad. Talk about an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. What you see here are only some of the components. What the menu described as "lardons" were in fact entire slices of bacon (or smoked pork belly as it's known here). A hard-boiled egg, tomato wedges, lettuce, so far, so normale...Black olives, marinated green and red we were moving into uncharted seas. In there too was a little savoury dollop of onion confit and and entire fruit section consisting of grapes, a cantaloupe slice, and a few slices of kiwi fruit.

A slice of creamy, funky goat cheese on a slice of baguette, popped in the oven long enough for the cheese to soften, warm and take on a golden crust.  Elsewhere, you can see a slice of mountain ham, garnet-coloured and chewy, and a heap of lardons.

Lardons, cubes of Roquefort, walnuts, hard-boiled egg, tomato and lettuce. 

No unrecognizable ingredients here apart from those deep pink thingies at three o'clock.  They're called gésiers, which is French for "gizzards," either chicken or, more likely in this part of the world, duck. Don't knock them till you've tried them. Utterly delicious, as is anything confit-ed in duck fat. I buy confited gésiers in tins from SuperU or Intermarché.

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