La salade lyonnaise véritable

I had three salades lyonnaises in Lyon. They were all a little different. When I got back I looked for the recipe online, and found at least a dozen different versions, all claiming to be la salade lyonnaise veritable. I remember reading how Julia Child had great difficulty establishing which recipes were the correct ones for various French classic dishes. She doesn’t include a recipe for salade lyonnaise. Elizabeth David does, but it’s totally different from any of the versions I found, or ate, since it consists solely of a collection of little dishes of various bits of animals.
             Some basic ingredients do emerge, and these match what I ate in Lyon. First, some kind of slightly bitter salad greens – in earlier times it used to be dandelion, known in French as pissenlit or “wet-the-bed”, but today it’s frisée (also called curly endive or chicory endive) and/or French endive itself (also called chicory). We bought glorious great discs of frisée when we were staying in the Loire Valley. I’d already taken leaves out of the centre of this one when I remembered to take its photo.


It can have shallots and garlic, too, though opinions vary. Next come bacon, croutons, and a poached egg (though some recipes prefer soft-boiled or even hard-boiled egg). Finally, a sharp mustardy dressing.

Here’s an adapted translation of a French recipe which seemed to me to be the closest to the salade lyonnaise I enjoyed most in Lyon. The French use soup spoons as a measure rather than dessert spoons or tablespoons.

La salade lyonnaise véritable
(Serves four)
1 large bowl of washed salad leaves – frisée, endive, dandelion
4 very fresh eggs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 soup spoon of olive oil for cooking
200g bacon (this should be lardons, thin square sticks of fatty smoked bacon, but these are very hard to get in New Zealand. The best substitute is a thick piece of smoky bacon cut into small dice.)
4 dry slices of good white bread (e.g. sourdough or a French country loaf) crusts removed, cut into dice for croutons 
1 soup spoon of Dijon mustard
2 soup spoons of good quality red wine vinegar
5 soup spoons of extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
fresh bread to serve on the side

Gently heat the first measure of olive oil in a frying pan. Cook the garlic and shallots until soft. Remove from pan. Cook the bacon gently until crisp. Remove the bacon and add the bread. Toss and fry gently until golden brown on each side.
Make the dressing: whisk together the mustard and vinegar, then slowly add the second measure of oil, whisking steadily to make a creamy dressing. Add the pepper.
Some recipes recommend adding the vinegar and mustard to the pan with the garlic and shallots before adding the second measure of oil. Or you can add the garlic and shallots to the mixed dressing, or simply add them to the salad leaves.
Toss the dressing with the salad. (You may not need to use it all, so add it little by little until there is just enough to coat the leaves very lightly.) Scatter over the bacon and croutons. Divide the salad between four plates.
Quickly poach the eggs, making sure the yolks are still runny, and drain them carefully. Place one egg on top of each pile of salad. Serve with fresh bread.


I made this for an American friend using iceberg lettuce, as I knew she wouldn’t like the bitter greens – and I don’t think even Moore Wilson has frisée (though I’ll check). I made do with ordinary bacon, and as I didn’t have the right kind of fresh bread I added more croutons than usual, . As I’d made them with my friend Ali’s home-made foccaccia, they were delicious.

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