A classic Lyonnaise salad may be little more than greens, bacon and egg but when combined, they become special. It's popular in bistros across France for good reason, and so easy to make at home as an appetizer or light lunch.
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I know I sometimes mention when I share salads that I'm not the hugest fan of plain salads. But with the right additions, even a simple handful of greens can be taken up a notch. And that's definitely true for this classic French salad.
You'll find this served as an appetizer across the country and it does indeed make a great start to many a meal. It's also great when you aren't quite sure what to make as it doesn't require that many ingredients.
A salad with humble origins
The exact origins of this salad are unclear, other than being from Lyon in central France ("Lyonnaise" means from Lyon). However it is considered a staple in the "bouchons" that are a key part of the city's culinary heritage, so may well have originated in one of them.
A bouchon is a small bistro/eatery that typically serves dishes from Lyonnaise cuisine like sausages, duck pate and this salad. Bouchons are all about using local produce and ingredients.
Their menu can change daily as a result, if they indeed have a list of dishes to choose from at all. Many have a set menu, a "menu du jour", for lunch with little, if anything, a la carte.
Bouchons tend to offer simple, traditional meals. They have traditionally served tradespeople in the city, including silk workers that are an important part of the city's history.
Lyon's culinary heritage
Lyon prides itself as a centre of cuisine and many chefs see it as the true gastronomic center of the country. Classic dishes include coq au vin, saucisson de Lyon (a kind of sausage) and marrons glaces (candied chestnuts).
As these dishes suggest, many traditional Lyonnaise dishes are relatively humble, and many emerge from ensuring nothing went to waste such as incorporating tripe. But the city is also highly regarded by leading chefs and has given the world people like Daniel Boulud.
You may have, like me, seen Daniel Boulud on Parts Unknown introduce Anthony Bourdain to aspects of the city's food culture. In my case it brought back memories of my own visit there in high school (like steak in the school cafeteria!)
The origins of Lyonnaise cuisine
Lyonnaise cuisine apparently started in the 16th century when Catherine of Medici brought her chefs with her to France and ordered them to cook with produce sourced around the country. It was an important step in the evolution of cooking, as these trained chefs learned to incorporate different ingredients.
Lyon has always been at a crossroads of trades and ingredients from far and wide. This both led the city to grow and gave a high passing trade of customers needing to eat.
This sense of being a crossroads has also influenced the cuisine, which incorporates a broader range of ingredients than some other areas in France.
In the 18th century, Lyon 'mothers' emerged and are often credited with creating the current culinary reputation. These were ladies who had previously served richer families who set up on their own.
They combined humble ingredients with simple but elegant preparation, the type of food now prized by people from all backgrounds in the city's unique bouchon.
What's in salade Lyonnaise?
The salad is a simple combination of slightly bitter frisée greens, strips of smoky bacon ('lardons') and a simple mustard-vinegar dressing using the warm bacon fat rendered in cooking it. The salad is then topped with a poached egg.
Some recipes also include toasted croutons, but these are not in all versions so can easily be missed out. I think they're great if you're wanting to make this more of a light meal, plus just generally provide a nice extra crunch.
Whether included or not, the salad is a deliciously simple combination. The egg adds softness that mixes and mingles with everything else as you eat it.
While the bacon (and it's fat in the dressing) gives a richness, this is still a relatively light salad. It's perfect as either an appetizer course or as a a light lunch with, for example, a bowl of soup or some bread and cheese.
What is frisée and substitutes
Frisée is in the chicory family, along with endive and radicchio. It's a slightly bitter, crisp green that is usually used raw, similar to lettuce, though you can also cook with it. You may see it called curly endive as well.
If you can't find it, you can substitute other slightly bitter greens such as escarole. You can also use a blend, particularly if you find the bitterness a bit too much. I would always recommend having a little bitter element, if you can, though. A little radicchio or dandelion greens, for example, are great in the mix for that.
Whenever you choose to have it, a Lyonnaise salad is easy to make and packed with flavor. And when you try it, you'll understand it's a classic for good reason.
Try these other classic French recipes:
- French lemon yogurt cake
- Beef bourguignon
- Quiche Lorraine
- Plus get more French recipes in the archives.
Salade Lyonnaise (Lyonnaise salad)
- 4 oz frisée (4 oz is approx 4 cups loosely packed) sometimes called curly endive
- 1 shallot
- 1 slice bread country style, slightly stale if possible (optional)
- 2 oz smoked bacon slab bacon if possibly or relatively thick cut, good quality smoked bacon. Pancetta is also good
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ tablespoon white vinegar (optional)
- 2 eggs
- Break the frisée into roughly bite-sized pieces and finely dice/mince the shallot. Remove the crusts from the bread, if using, and cut into small dice. Set a pan of water to boil to poach the eggs and put each egg in a small bowl.
- Cut the bacon into slices and fry over a medium-high heat until gently crisp. Remove the bacon from the skillet, leaving the rendered fat in the skillet, and set it aside to drain any excess fat.
- Add the shallot to the pan and cook over medium heat for a couple minutes until softened. Remove the shallot to a small bowl, along with around 1 tablespoon of the fat, leaving a little fat in the skillet. If you don't have enough fat (if the bacon was leaner), add a little olive oil.
- Toast the bread in the remaining fat/oil until gently crisp on at least a couple sides.
- Meanwhile, add the red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard to the warm bacon fat and shallots and stir gently to emulsify. You can either toss the frisée with the dressing then divide between plates, or drizzle the dressing over the finished salad.
- Also meanwhile, poach the eggs by adding the white vinegar to the boiling water (optional, but can help). You can poach the eggs as you prefer, but it can often help to start by cracking each egg into a separate small bowl rather than cracking directly into the pot. Then swirl the water to form a small whirlpool and add an egg to the middle of the swirl. Once it starts to set, add the other egg. Poach them to around 2-3 minutes until the whites are white but the yolks are still soft.
- Divide the frisée between two plates, top with the bacon pieces and add the croutons (if using) and egg on top. Drizzle over the dressing if not already mixed with the frisée, and serve.
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I first shared the recipe for salade Lyonnaise (warm bacon and egg salad) on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.