Saturday night I prepared the Wilted Frisée Salad with Beets and Manchego from the September 2006 issue of Bon Appétit. This is a variation on the salade Lyonnaise I’ve grown to love, first at Artisanal, the delectable Big Apple restaurant devoted to all things fromage, and then from a cooking class I took a couple of years ago. Just thinking about a salade Lyonnaise makes my mouth water. It’s probably as far from health food as a salad can get: thick slices of bacon, crunchy croutons, and greens drenched in dressing. It’s deliciousness on a plate – with a poached egg on top. So when I saw the recipe, I decided enough time had gone by without indulging in a Lyonnaise-like salad. The addition of beets also intrigued me, since the ruby-red vegetables are a recent culinary discovery for me. Lyonnaise and beets… would it turn out to be an unexpected, yet delightful combination? Or an overwrought and ultimately futile play for novelty?
The answer: an overwrought and ultimately futile play for novelty. Now, full disclosure, I made two variations to the recipe, one of which I think ultimately served the salad and another that didn’t. Since we were eating the dish as a main course instead of an appetizer I added homemade croutons (a standard Lyonnaise ingredient that the recipe didn’t call for). It should go without saying that this is the variation that improved the salad, because, really, when don’t homemade croutons make something better? The variation that didn’t work as well was substituting romaine lettuce for the frisée, which I couldn’t find. I still wilted the romaine, but the salad’s texture, at least, certainly suffered.
But, romaine aside, the dish still had potential – bacon, eggs, dressing, croutons. Ultimately, it was the beets that did the damage. Think about it – does it seem like beets would complement a tangy, oily, crunchy, très français salad? The answer is no, and had I thought about it long enough I would have come to that conclusion.
Alas, this was one of those cases where I pondered too slowly and cooked too quickly. One good thing did come of it: I was reminded that a salade Lyonnaise is not a difficult dish to prepare and one that shouldn’t be banished from the table for too long a stretch.
I haven't tested this recipe for a classic salade Lyonnaise yet, but it looks just about right.