If you know where to look every style of cooking has something to offer the curious cook. The past year or so has really been largely about David Chang-style cooking for me but there is always an attraction to traditional French technique in that lingers somewhere in the back of my head.
I have to admit that I’ve always been a Julia Child kind of guy but was interested to try some of the recipes from Jacques Pépin’s new book, Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food. My friend Bonita from publisher Thomas Allen & Son offered just such an opportunity as part of a contest they’re running.
A recipe for a composed salad seemed like an ideal, easy introduction, and I was not disappointed.
A salad recipe succeeds based on its flexibility. As presented, good ones usually have one specialised task that can be done as is when entertaining or left out for regular meals. There should also be an ingredient that can be varied for the same two situations.
In this case the task is the caramelised pecans; pecan halves would be a fine salad component on their own but the sweet, slightly spicy, crunchy version sits squarely in dinner-party territory. Equally, you have many options between standard-issue and super-fancy for the goat cheese.
I modified the recipe slightly based on availability and what was in the fridge. Instead of pecans I used their cousin, the walnut and baby spinach stood in for mesclun. Also, the ubiquitous, all-Canadian McIntosh did service instead of Pépin’s preferred “russet or Golden Delicious”.
Diving into the recipe the caramelising stage was the most involved but still quite easy. It’s first step–bringing the nuts to a simmer in a bit of water that is quickly discarded–has that unexplained, very French officialness to it. Are we doing this to leach bitter flavours or to heat the nuts without burning them? Who knows but the result at the end of all the steps was so delicious that I’m glad I made extra so that there were enough to share between a hungry cook (me) and the actual salad.
After that it’s just tossing greens in vinaigrette, slicing apples and crumbling cheese.
This was a delicious salad that managed easy and impressive at once. I look forward to trying more of the recipes and sharing the results with you here.