I returned to Paris this summer after an absence of about five years and was surprised to find that cheeseburgers and pizza are now standard fare in the bistros and simpler brasseries of Paris and it surrounds. With few exceptions, these cheeseburgers are not the elevated examples one finds many U.S. restaurants these days and the pizzas do not remind one of Napoli. But, there is one French classic that remains on the bistro menus of that I enjoyed on several occasions – the ubiquitous Salade au Chèvre Chaud.
As the name implies, this salad features toasted croutons topped with warm goat cheese. Seldom seen in the U.S., salade au chèvre chaud is as common on French menus as a Caesar Salad is here. It has four components – mixed greens, classic vinaigrette, croutons and the chèvre. While attention must be paid to the quality of all the ingredients, the chèvre that is the star of the show and it is the quality of this cheese that makes or breaks the salad.
A little work is needed to get the right chèvre for this salad. Don’t be tempted to pick up a small round “tube” of fresh goat cheese at the supermarket. This cheese has not yet developed an edible rind and is without the flavor and texture that a good salade au chèvre chaud demands.
Go to a market, or store with a cheese counter staffed by those who know their product and choose, or ask for a semi-ripened chèvre. This cheese will be firmer, have a soft edible rind and possess more complex flavors. It melts better than the fresh variety, but keep in mind this a “warm”, not a melted, goat cheese salad. In my broiler, that means the cheese will ooze a bit before the crouton burns to a crisp but will not reach a gooey state. The main point is spend a little effort to get the right cheese. It pays off.
A pre-made salad mix is a good choice here. Choose a mix that has rosettes of Mâche (lamb’s lettuce) if you can find it. But, any salad mix that appeals to you will be fine. The dressed greens used for this salad are usually quite simple and mild as the bold flavors of the goat cheese croutons define the dish. A stronger flavored salad of arugula or dandelion would not be a good choice in my opinion.
Some salads have protein toppings such lardons or thinly slice ham. I don’t think these garnishes are necessary, but I have included some sliced tomato wedges, pine nuts and a few caper berries alongside which is about as far as I am willing to go to embellish the essential ingredients of a classic salade au chèvre chaud.
The recipe is for two servings. I enjoyed this dish with a nice Sancerre that provided a great balance against the rich chèvre. I should say that I am a bit partial to the wines of the Loire Valley these days.
- 1 small (3.5 ounce) package of mixed salad greens. If available, an organic “French” blend with Mâche lettuce is a good choice.
- 2 tablespoons of champagne vinegar
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 1/4 teaspoon cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon (heaping) of grainy Dijon mustard
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- 2 medium tomatoes sliced into wedges
- 4 to 6 slices of French baguette 1/2” thick, toasted
- 1/4 pound of semi-ripened high quality chèvre
- 2 medium tomatoes sliced into wedges
- 1 handful (about 20) caper berries (optional)
- Remove mixed lettuce from the packaging, rinse and pat dry. Place the lettuce in a large bowl and refrigerate until needed.
- For the vinaigrette, whisk together vinegar, garlic, sugar, mustard and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and refrigerate until needed. (This makes vinaigrette in the classic proportions of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part of vinegar. I like my dressing a little more acidic and reduce the olive oil to 2 parts or 4 tablespoons for this recipe.)
- Drizzle the baguette slices with olive oil and toast in a 350-degree oven checking frequently for doneness. Set aside.
- Turn the oven to broil. Place chèvre slices on the croutons and slide under the broiler for about 1 minute. Watch carefully and remove before the edges of the croutons burn.
- Toss the salad with vinaigrette reserving a small amount to dress the tomato slices.
- Arrange the salad on a serving plate with tomatoes, caper berries and two to three chèvre topped croutons. Spoon vinaigrette on the tomatoes, sprinkle pine nuts over the top and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste before serving.