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Jul 18, 2014

Salad Without the La: Le Guérandais

THE STORY:

What is a salad with the la? It's just sa..d, very sad. Every salad needs some "la" -- maybe even some L.A. if you want this Californian's opinion. In France, they have all sorts of great vegetables and fruits and ingredients, and yet 90% of the time when you're in a restaurant, you'll get overly-large lettuce leaves often drowned in something that resembles airline vinaigrette.


If you're lucky, you may get some token other elements -- in this example, they've jazzed it up with a few carrot shreds, a couple overcooked bean greens, and some corn kernels (hey! that's almost creative by French standards!).


When we moved to Paris, Anthony wondered aloud if he would ever get a good salad again. And I answered -- truthfully and without exaggeration, I think -- "Sure you will. When we make them at home."



Here is a salad filled with things I buy in Paris but have -- literally -- never seen in a restaurant salad: cherry tomatoes, roasted beets, sprouts. In fatc, there are fabulous sprouts here in France: leek shoots, radish shoots, fennel shoots. The radish shoots are surprisingly spicy, much like a radish, I suppose. Yet I've never seen them used in a restaurant.
 
 

And not just sprouts, but greens. I think it's quite telling in some way that the word for what we call "greens" or even, somewhat generically "lettuce" -- they call "salades". So for the French, if greens are salades, then a salade can be nothing but greens. Yet, frustratingly, it is always basic lettuce. Whereas at the produce market and, therefore, at home, there are more interesting greens like arugula, baby spinach, or mâche, which is rich in vitamin A and iron -- much better for you than plain old lettuce.


I know I will get backlash over this, primarily from people who have stars in their eyes when it comes to life in France or who don't live in California -- especially not Los Angeles or San Francisco, where salads are pretty much an art form from the ingredients to the dressings. But I know I'm right. So, other than going to the high-end, very pricey French restaurants, about the only way to put the LA (or the SF, for that matter) back into your salad is to make it at home.

THE CHEESE: Le Guérandais

Le Guérandais is a raw goat's milk cheese that comes from Auvergne in central France. What makes it unique is that during the aging process, it is rubbed not just with a salt-water wash but with a wash of fleur de sel -- which literally means "flower of salt". Fleur de sel is the most desirable of salts, a fine grain salt derived when the naturally-occurring foam on the shores of a body of salt water evaporates.


The cheese can be eaten very fresh and soft, hard (called "sec" or "dry"), or between the two at "demi-sec" or "semi-dry". No matter what its stage, it has a very mild flavor, a thick texture, and only a hint of salt, which is somewhat surprising for a cheese whose claim to fame is the special salt rubbed on it.

THE CONNECTION:

Le Guérendais is a "le" so it's missing a "la" as well. But more to the point, this is just the sort of goat cheese you should slice, put on a piece of toast, melt, and stick on top of a salad. That, by the way, is one of the only regular French salad variations I concede has some spark: melted goat cheese on toast, on top of your salad is not just "LA", it's "ooh-la-la".

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