French Bistro – Central France – Part 1

When I think of a French bistro in fall, I immediately think of Bouef Bourguignon. Just the smell of it cooking is sheer comfort. It just smells like home. As soon as the cooler temperatures arrived, I felt an overwhelming urge to make it. Then, when I actually started making it, the temperatures jumped into the triple-digits again. Even as I type this, it’s in the mid-90’s. What happened to fall? Well, I know some of you around the country are actually experiencing fall, so this is a blog for you.

Bouef Bourguignon historically comes from the central area of France, Burgundy, to be exact, so I’m going to focus this first little series on several regions around there. I’ll try to do these blogs like a 3-course prix-fixe dinner at a bistro, but in 3 parts so that I don’t overwhelm you with prep. These recipe’s aren’t necessarily difficult but take up a lot of room when you use as many pictures as I do to describe the prep. So, we’re not going to start with Bouef Bourguignon. That’s the main course. (I know…I’m a tease.) For the first course, we’ll head on down to Lyon, arguably the gastronomic capital of France, for one of my favorite salads to order at a bistro: Salade Lyonnaise ~ frisée lettuce, poached eggs, bacon
lardons, croutons and a vinaigrette. Bacon and eggs…hmmmm, does that sound like me or what? Breakfast on a salad….mmm..mmm…good.

Start with some good bacon, preferably unsliced so that you can cut it into proper lardons. I’m using my all-time favorite bacon,
Nueske’s, that
Gelson’s is kind enough to offer sliced to order. I asked them to cut me off a 2-pound slab. I’ll need some for the Bouef Bourguignon too.

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I cut up the bacon into lardons like this:

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The thicker the lardons, the slower you should cook them. I cook them in a cast-iron pan for an hour or so over the lowest heat possible. See my BLT blog for pics of my bacon-cooking method. When the fat starts to look rendered and translucent, I turn up the heat a bit to crisp them up. They should look like this when you are done:

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Ahhh…but then you are left with a ton of yummy bacon fat. Hmmmm…what to do…what to do?

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Croutons! I cubed up about 4 slices of Orowheat Honey Wheat Berry bread and threw them in the pan and fried ‘em up. Needless to say, I didn’t have an excess of bacon fat
When I was done. No, this is not low-fat.

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Here is what they look like when they are ready to take out of the pan:

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Next, bring a shallow, wide saucepan full of water with a splash of distilled white vinegar to a boil and then turn down to a bare simmer. Now, there are differing schools of thought on adding vinegar to the water when poaching eggs. The reason that you would do this is to keep the eggs from spreading all over the water when you add them. The vinegar helps to set the eggs so that they stay in a nice, compact shape. Some recipes say that you have to add a large amount of vinegar to the water to actually make this work, but I disagree. I have tested it and just a splash helps. Any more than a splash will make your eggs taste really vinegary. Will they set up BETTER if you use more? Maybe…who the hell cares? A splash works better than nothing and you can’t really taste it. So, anyway, if you’re nervous about cracking the eggs straight into the water, crack them into a ramekin first and carefully drop them in. The water should be deep enough to just cover them. If you want them nice and round, stir the water up and then drop them in the vortex. They’ll stay nice and round and small.

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Now, do not boil them. They will get hard as rocks, or worse, will break up into egg-drop soup. Keep the temperature of the water at a bare simmer and cook until done to your taste…which, I hope to God is somewhat runny. I’ve never actually timed it, though I make poached eggs every morning. Well, let’s see, it takes exactly as long as it takes to toast my English muffin…but in layman’s terms…probably about 4-5 minutes. My perfect poached egg? Runny….but thick. I hate it when the whites aren’t cooked (skeeves me out) and I hate to lose any of that yummy yolk, so I like the yolk a little viscous. I mostly can tell by feel, ie: using the slotted spoon or spatula to lift it out of the water a little when I think it’s about done and then wiggling it a little to see where it’s at. Anyway, here’s my next major poached egg pet peeve: “DRAIN AND DRY THOSE FUCKERS OFF”. Can I just tell you how pissed off I get when I order them in a restaurant and they come dumped in a ceramic bowl with what seems like all the poaching water? I always take them out and drain them on a napkin because I DIDN’T ORDER EGG SOUP, ASSHOLES!

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For the salad itself, I’m using the classic frisée lettuce (rinsed well and spun dry) with very thinly sliced radishes mixed in. I also like to toss in fresh herb leaves rather than adding chopped fresh herbs to the dressing. I’m using fresh flat leaf parsley from the garden…no stems…just the leaf. It’s nice to crunch down on the whole leaf rather than have the herb flavor somewhat lost when it’s pulverized into a dressing.

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For the actual dressing, I’m using a dressing that I mainly use for Niçoise Salad (the salad to be blogged later). It works very well with this salad as well:

1 Tablespoon anchovy paste
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon sea or coarse salt
½ Cup of fruity olive oil

Whisk the anchovy paste, mustard, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add the garlic lemon zest, and salt. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Don’t worry too much about emulsifying it. This kind of vinaigrette isn’t necessarily emulsified when you find it in France. I usually make it and put it in an old mustard jar and just shake it up really well before BARELY coating the leaves with it. People…don’t drown your salads in too much dressing…it ruins it.

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So, that’s basically it. Toss the lardons and croutons into the frisée. Dress it lightly and place a poached egg on top and serve immediately. The idea is to cut into the yolk and toss it into the salad, enriching it.

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Stay tuned. In Part 2, we’ll be heading back up to Burgundy for that Boeuf Bourguignon we’ve all heard so much about.

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