Photo by Judith Hausman
My garden-mate, Leslie de Noue, is indefatigable and knowledgeable about growing food and food itself … and is consistently cheery, to boot. Her French husband is also a chef, and together they garden a suburban lot in Ridgefield, Conn. Part of her farm-ette is a flock of Pekin ducks plus a mallard that she rescued from a grade-school class project. She says that the 6-year-old female rules the roost. Leslie graciously offered me a few duck eggs when I said that I’ve eaten duck breast and liver but never duck eggs.
Leslie swears by the duck eggs for baking, and I considered coddling the duck eggs (baking them in cream). Instead, I decided to showcase the eggs in a loose interpretation of the classic French frisée salad, or salade lyonnaise. That way, I could really give the eggs a focused first try. Also, a good frisée salad depends on a runny yolk to coat the spiky green (also known as curly endive and a member of the chicory family), and that’s the way Leslie recommended I cook them. “If the yolk is hard, I’m disappointed,” she told me.
Along with the lightly fried or poached egg (duck or chicken), a frisée should have lardons made from pancetta or streaky, uncured bacon. It’s cubed and sautéed to render off some of the fat and crisp up the bits. Then, acidic vinaigrette balances the rich egg and fatty bacon. You drain all but a couple of tablespoons of fat from the bacon, sauté a sliced shallot in the fat and add the red-wine vinegar right into the pan, creating a warmed dressing that nicely softens the greens.
If you’d like, you can make a vegetarian version by dressing the frisée with warmed, red-wine mustard vinaigrette with a chopped shallot in it. Consider sprinkling goat cheese or bleu cheese on the salad and adding homemade garlic croutons or some chopped walnuts or hazelnuts.
We do not grow the curly, toothy true frisée, in our garden, but it’s not too hard to find. Look for a yellow-green head with young, tender leaves. My salad was composed of butter lettuce; arugula; and mizuna, a peppery, Japanese green somewhat similar to frisée. I also subbed in a garlic scape for the shallot, since we had just trimmed ours. And the rich, satin-y duck eggs were indeed delicious on top.
- 1 head frisée (French curly endive) or a mix of other salad greens
- 4 to 6 ounces pancetta, slab bacon or thick-cut bacon slices
- 4 large eggs (duck or chicken)
- 1 large shallot, chopped (or 2 garlic scapes)
- 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
Wash the frisée or lettuces and tear them into bite-size pieces. Cut the pancetta or bacon into a small dice.
In a heavy skillet, cook bacon over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Drain the bacon bits and pour off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Add shallot/garlic scape and cook while stirring, 1 minute. Add red-wine vinegar and boil five seconds. Pour the warm dressing over the greens, and toss with the drained lardons. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, poach or gently fry the eggs (in a little olive oil), leaving the yolks soft.
Divide salad among four plates and slide an egg on top of each pile of dressed greens. Serve salad immediately.