So every Christmas Eve since we’ve been together, the boy and I have crab cakes. We’ve also been eating Caesar salad as a side, but this year I think I’m over that. I’m kind of over Caesar salad in general, and I cant pinpoint as to why, but that’s beside the point. I just don’t want to eat it anymore. So I spent some time this week worrying about what side would be good enough for our crab cakes. The boy suggested frites but as we’re having potatoes cooked in duck fat on Christmas Day, I wasn’t keen on that idea either. The other night we were playing the Who Game and I paused the cartoon (you've got to be nuts to play the Who Game along to the movie version) in order to gleefully announce to the boy that I had it! I knew what we were going to eat with those crab cakes on Christmas Eve! And that would be frisée aux lardons. And then I remembered a story about one December 23rd when I was a kid and had frisée aux lardons for the first time. Although it’s not really a story. It’s just one of those memories I have and I’ll open up that window for a bit to let you look at it.
When I was a little kid, we lived on Boulevard d’Argenson in the very upscale but extremely vanilla Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. The apartment had a tremendous amount of light and if you leaned out of the living room windows, you could see the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The elderly woman who lived in the apartment before us died in the living room. Why I remember that, I ‘ve no idea. And what does that have to do with a salad? Nothing. Anyways.
I’m not quite sure how old I was, maybe 9? But it was December 23rd, and my mom’s friend Odette came over with her son, who was a couple of years older than I was (and whose name escapes me at the moment). Incidentally, it was thanks to him that I developed an interest in Tintin comic books, as he had the entire collection (I only had two, and I wish I knew where those copies were now, probably festering in a box in my parents basement). I don’t know why I remember the date of this particular visit, other than I spent the evening with my mom’s friend’s son jumping up and down on my parents bed, which is something that I was never allowed to do EVER – what kid is, really? But my mom was being uncharacteristically lenient that night, so we spent probably the better half of two hours jumping up and down on the bed and having a great time. And I remember what we ate for dinner that night, only because it was the first time I’d ever been introduced to this particular dish. My mom made frisée aux lardons. Frisée is one of those bitter lettuces that looks like it’s had a perm. I love it, but it’s one of those acquired taste lettuces, because of its bitterness. And I remember being thrown off by the fact that the dressing was hot – hot bacon vinaigrette to be exact – and holy cow was it good.
I spent another notable night in Pittsburgh making frisée aux lardons for my friend Caprice, while we danced around her kitchen to En Vogue’s Never Gonna Get It playing at full blast volume. But that was in October 2004, not Christmastime, and what does that have to do with right now? Nothing. Just reminiscing here. Play along with me.
Our friend Charles, he who sends the odd gifts, sent us a hunk of slab bacon and a Virginia ham for Hanukkah (we are not Jewish and he gets a kick out of oddball things like sending us a ham for Hanukkah – don’t ask, I don’t get it either). We’ll be using some of that slab bacon for tomorrow’s salad.
This is one of those recipes I have not a single measurement for. Except for the bacon, and that amount is really up to you. I haven’t made this in a while, and I’m doing it from memory so here goes:
Frisée aux lardons, for two
¼ to 1/3 rd a cup of diced up slab bacon (you can use regular bacon if you like, try to get thick cut if possible)
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
A few handfuls of washed and dried frisée leaves, or other bitter greens, or another kind of lettuce that will stand up to heat and not wilt immediately (this is not the time for baby spring mix)
Put leaves in a salad bowl. Put however many leaves you want in there.
In a large skillet set over medium heat, sauté up the bacon bits until golden all over. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate to drain slightly, set aside. Keep pan on the burner but turn the heat off from under it.
If you have a ton of bacon grease left in the pan, discard some of it. You’re making the dressing out of this. You can add a bit of olive oil to the pan if you want – this is purely up to you. I prefer my dressings to be a bit more acidic than the average person, but normally the ratio is something like a couple of tablespoons of acid (whether it’s vinegar or lemon juice) to 1/3rd cup of oil. I think.
Splash in some red wine vinegar, sprinkle in some salt and pepper, and a dollop of good Dijon mustard (by “good”, I don’t mean store brand, I mean get your mitts on some Maille or Amora brand, or even some Grey Poupon), and whisk together with the fat/oil (this may steam up or smoke a bit; who cares, keep whisking). Pour this over the greens, toss in the bacon bits, toss it all together and serve.
I’ve seen this with a poached egg on top and that would be totally grand as a meal in itself, but as a side dish to the boy’s Maryland style crab cakes (the only kind of crab cake worth having), without poached egg is the way to go.
Merry Christmas to you all.