And our featured book this week is: Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham, which, according to my Oxfam copy, was voted ‘the most useful cookbook of all time’ by Waitrose Food Illustrated. And that’s a publication I respect. Roast Chicken etc. is built around forty chapters, each of which are based on one of Simon’s favourite ingredient, which include anchovies, brains, endives, kidneys and potatoes. The recipes, as you might imagine, are quite heavily biased towards French and British classics; in other words, the kind of cooking I grew up on and have spent most of my subsequent adult life avoiding due to a childhood horror of, well, most food, and a teenage distaste for meat, rich sauces, and absent vegetables. While my taste may still veer towards mainly vegetarian dishes and far more small grain-like things and pulses than my parents would ever consider normal, as I’ve got older I’ve consciously tried to broaden my food horizons. I was struck by Jeffrey Steingarten’s theory, in The Man Who Ate Everything, that all food aversions are really phobias which can, and should, be overcome. I may still have a few (mayonnaise, urgh) but the range of food I will eat now would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Besides, who can take pride in their cooking skills without being able to roast a chicken well?
This salad, which despite the French name is actually bacon and egg salad, conjures up for me an image of a little French bistro, a pavement-side table and a glass of cold white wine. But it went down pretty well even in a small flat in Oxford on a Monday night, and this is key, I think, because it was so simple and so delicious that I understood why this book might have been voted so useful – I can see this becoming one of my standbys.
Salade frisee aux lardons Serves 4
The instructions preceding the recipe tell you to have everything ready and to hand before you start, as everything comes together quickly, and he’s right – you should.
1 head of frisee, washed and picked over into small tendrils (I couldn’t find frisee alone, but most supermarkets will sell a salad mix of mainly frisee)
salt and pepper
6 tbsp olive oil
vinegared water for poaching
6 thick, rindless streaky bacon rashers, cut into lardons (small pieces)
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 small baguette, rubbed with a garlic clove, cut into cubes, and fried in olive oil (I sliced, toasted, and rubbed with garlic instead)
1 heaped tbsp flat-leaf parsley
Have the washed frisee ready in a large bowl. Season it lightly with salt and pepper. Put a frying pan on to heat and bring the water for poaching the egg to a simmer. Heat the oil in the frying pan and start to fry the bacon until as crisp as you like it. Start to poach the eggs (I find the easiest way is to break the egg into a cup and then lower the cup into the simmering water, twisting the cup to slip the egg gently out, and removing the cup).
When the bacon is crisp, throw it onto the frisee and stir it in. Immediately add the red wine vinegar to the hot frying pan (off the heat), swirl it around, and tip that into the salad leaves too. Mix in the parsley and croutons and divide between four plates. Place a poached egg on the top of each salad, sprinkling with a little salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
From Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.