March 21, 2005
[Rucola Salad, Shallot Vinaigrette and Toasted Almonds]
Last week I had lunch (at the Café Fusion, where else?) with someone who, incidentally, told me about a cooking class she had attended. It was one of those conversations between two persons who don't know each other too well, who suspect they are in the company of a fellow food enthusiast, but are still trying to determine how deeply infected the other person is, and just how much detail will be too much detail.
So they end up talking in layers like a mille-feuille, giving general information at first, to test the waters and see how the other person reacts. If he/she prompts for more, they elaborate a little, and if the eyes of their interlocutor still don't glaze over, then they feel completely at ease and connected, and can lavishly share the mouth-watering details and the minute practicalities of whatever dish, recipe or technique they are conversing about.
Of course, my lunch companion and I ended up discussing the whole menu that they had prepared during the cooking class. In passing, she explained the word contiser, a culinary term I knew not (I have found just a few references to the English translation "to contise"), which means to cut regular slits in a raw piece of meat or fish to insert ingredients that will lend flavor during the cooking -- like slivers of truffle or, in her case, a sprig of fresh rosemary in a chicken breast. This is a bit like larder (to lard), only larder should theoretically be used for pieces of lard inserted in meat.
She also mentioned (getting to the point here) preparing a vinaigrette cuite à l'échalote, a cooked shallot vinaigrette, which had you slow-cook the shallots in balsamic vinegar (optionally cut with water) until completely absorbed. This idea stuck with me, and I decided to give it a try on Sunday morning, for brunch with our friends Marion and Benoît.
I intended to use the vinaigrette to dress a fresh green bean salad, but the store was out, so I got wild roquette (a.k.a. rucola, arugula, rocket) instead. I dressed it quite simply with a little olive oil and walnut oil, added in the cooked shallots, and tossed with chopped almonds. The trio was a very successful mix of textures (snappy greens, crunchy almonds, soft shallots) and flavors -- tangy, peppery, piquant, sour, toasted and sweet in every bite.
Salade de Roquette, Vinaigrette d'Echalote et Amandes Toastées
- 6 small shallots
- 1/4 C balsamic vinegar
- 2/3 C water
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/3 C (55 g) almonds, preferably skinned
- 5 oz (150 g) rucola, rinsed and spinned dry
- 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil (use half olive oil, half walnut or hazelnut oil if you have some)
Trim the ends of the shallots, peel them and slice them thinly. Put them in a small saucepan with the vinegar, water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered over medium heat, maintaining a small boil, until the liquids have evaporated (about 20 minutes) and you're left with a syrupy shallot confit. Let cool. (This can be prepared the day before and kept in the refrigerator.)
Put a small dry skillet over medium-high heat. When it is nice and hot, add in the almonds, and toast for a few minutes, shaking the skillet from time to time and watching them closely so they turn golden but don't burn. Set aside to cool. Chop the almonds with a knife, not too finely. (This too can be prepared ahead and kept at room temp.)
In a large salad bowl, toss together the rucola and olive oil so the leaves are well coated. Add a little more oil if it looks a little dry. Add in the shallots and almonds, and toss again until well combined. You can serve immediately, but this is a salad that can sit a little: the leaves will soften slightly, but the flavors will also develop nicely.
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