This salad of curly endive with bacon is a French bistro classic and it’s one of my favorites. I often serve it to friends at dinner parties, usually followed by another bistro dish, for example boeuf bourguignon or Provençal chicken with pastis. This is what is known over here as cuisine à la bonne franquette — casual, unfussy cooking (more on that below). Indeed, to make this salad you need only two main ingredients: the lettuce and the bacon.
Salade frisée aux lardons / Salad of curly endive with bacon
Let’s start with the lettuce. Salade frisée is displayed proudly in French farmers markets, its yellow heart framed by a dark green crown. This type of salad is huge. It can measure up to two feet (60 cm) in diameter when spread open. When I took the photo at right, it virtually covered the picnic table on my veranda. So unless you are cooking for an army, you won’t need all of it for your salad. What to do with the rest? Either a repeat performance or you can use it to make Italian lettuce soup, a recipe I hope to post one day soon.
Now the bacon. In France lardons, or bacon sticks, are sold precut in supermarkets. But for best results with this salad, it’s preferable to start with a thick strip of bacon — about 1/3 inch (1 cm) — and cut the lardons yourself. The flavor and texture are better, and your guests will appreciate it. If that’s not possible where you live, buy thick-cut bacon strips and chop them. My advice: be generous with the bacon. It’s the star of the show.
What else? Plenty of garlic in the dressing of your choice. I prefer a tangy lemon-olive oil sauce. Balsamic vinaigrette and mustard vinaigrette are also popular. Some chefs incorporate melted bacon fat into the sauce, but I don’t as I find that a bit heavy.
To make the salad, you prepare the sauce in the bottom of a large salad bowl, stir in the minced garlic and pile the chopped and washed leaves on top. Just before serving, you fry the bacon. The salad comes to the table with the bacon piping hot.
There are many variations on this basic salad. Croutons are often added. Sometimes the salad is topped with a poached or soft-boiled egg. I’ve seen other additions as well. But personally I prefer to omit these extras. I find that the salad is at its best without them.
As for à la bonne franquette, the expression derives from the word franc, meaning ‘frank’. In the 17th century, Molière used à la franquette, in the sense of speaking frankly, in his farce on French medicine, ‘The Doctor Inspite of Himself’. In the 16th century, according to a Canadian government web site, à la franquette, evoking simplicity, was used in contrast with à la française (‘French style’), meaning ‘with ceremony’ or ‘luxuriously’.
While researching the origin of the term, I stumbled across some amusing translations of the word ‘France’, which I had mistakenly thought was etymologically linked to the word ‘franc‘. It appears that in the Navajo language, France is known as Dáághahii Dineʼé bikéyah, or ‘the land of those who wear the mustache’, while in Maori, France is known as Wīwī, which derives from — you guessed it — ‘Oui, oui‘.