Bridge over River Colne, Chapel Hill, Huddersfield
Wait a second...is that…blue sky up there? Well I never. Finally, I pull back the curtains and the Colne Valley appears, drenched in pale sunlight.
It’s a mark of just how awful the summer’s been so far that it actually made me draw breath. I had momentarily forgotten what the grass looked like when lit that way!
So, without further ado, and in case even talking about it brings the rainclouds back, let’s get to the recipe for today, which is a brilliant salad from France, the classic Salade Lyonnaise, or rather a souped-up version of it that I made a few weeks ago, when I discovered a half-used bag of Japanese panko breadcrumbs in the cupboard.
These honey-coated marvels make any deep-fried item a satisfyingly crunchy treat, and are well worth hunting down, ideally in oriental supermarkets or online.
Their rough texture, combined with the honey-powdered coating is unlike any other crumb, and gives things like scampi or fish goujons a satisfying crunch like nothing else around.
The other influence on my choice of salad was the disturbing amount of dandelions in the garden – they really have benefited from the damp, cool summer so far, and they form the basis of this bistro classic, lending an essential bitter bite to the dish, complementing the creaminess of the egg and the salty kick of bacon.
Lyon, home to this salad, is France’s undisputed food capital. Whereas Paris may have its haute cuisine and fancy cafés, it is to Lyon where we look for variety and quality.
It has become the centre of the gastronomic world for mainly geographical reasons, being within easy reach of some of the best food producing regions in Europe. Game from the deep forests, fat fish from the wide rivers annexing the Rhône, vast meadows filled with cows just aching to give up their milk to make the finest, creamiest cheeses, and the famous chickens from Bresse, the finest, tastiest birds in all the world.
Taste a Bresse chicken and you’ll wonder what that white poultry you’ve been eating all your life actually was.
This abundance of good, cheap local produce meant that a fine tradition of restauration grew quickly within the narrow streets of the city.
Now there are thousands of eateries across Lyon, from the finest 3-star dining rooms (Paul Bocuse, Léon de Lyon, Nicolas Le Bec amongst others) to the wonderful ‘bouchons’, the not-quite-bistros for which the city is famed, traditionally run by the famous, legendary and often fearsome ‘Mères Lyonnaises’, the ‘Mothers of Lyon’.
Back in the early days, the idea of women running such places would have been found most unusual anywhere else.
There, diners enjoy a huge range of Beaujolais and Rhônes by the glass, served in rustic, comfortable surroundings, with lively chat, whilst the kitchens turn out endless plates of true ‘paysanne’ classics; salads, charcuterie, confits, Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq Au Vin, Boulangère potatoes, gratin Dauphinois, pike quenelles, profiteroles, snails, cheese, chocolate mousse…
In short, all those things we all really love eating. The Salade Lyonnaise is peasant food perfected – an economically sensible dish that also tastes amazing.
Essentially it comprises bitter salad leaves (and those all-important dandelions) tossed in a sharp vinaigrette with shreds of smoked bacon lardons and a poached egg.
When broken, the yolk combines with the vinaigrette and bacon fat to make one of the simplest yet most exquisite sauces, perfect for pushing those leaves around in.
I’ve tinkered with the recipe a little sacrilegiously, but it’s still in the same spirit.
The egg is deep-fried in crispy crumbs after poaching, and I’ve added a few dark, tasty leaves to alleviate some of the bitterness.
As usual, the fine tuning is up to you. Aprons on!