06 February 2009

Wintertime salads

It's wintertime and lettuce is pretty expensive right now. Besides being twice the price they cost in summer, the heads of batavia (green leaf lettuce), laitue (Boston lettuce), and feuille de chêne (oak-leaf lettuce) are really small.

So scarole (escarole) and frisée (curly endive) are better choices, even though they cost significantly more per head. Right now, you get a lot more salads out of a head of scarole than you do out of a head of laitue.

And I love escarole and curly endive. They make good salads with other winter foods: beets (of course), garlicky dressings, lardons fumés, and... duck gizzards (gésiers de canard). If you've never eaten duck (or chicken) gizzards in France, I encourage you to try them. They are commonly served in salads in cafés and restaurants all around the country.

Lentils, escarole, potatoes, and duck gizzards
make a good winter salad

Other winter salad ingredients are beans and potatoes. Both are really good in a vinaigrette dressing with a lot of Dijon mustard in it.

Escarole is a salad green that benefits from being tossed in vinaigrette 15 or more minutes before you serve it. That way, it "cooks" in the dressing and the leaves get more tender.

If you want to start with fresh gizzards, you need to let them cook slow and long in fat — preferably duck fat, but you can also do them in vegetable oil. They take a long time to tenderize, but once they do they have great flavor and texture. These are called gésiers confits in French.

The same kind of salad would be good with chicken livers, pork, or poached or sautéed chicken or turkey. Also eggs.


  1. Stupid question that I probably could google...

    Oak leaf lettuce... not really oak leaves but resemble them in some way?

  2. Right, the leaves of oak-leaf lettuce have kind of the same shape as the leaves on oak trees, but it is just a lettuce. Here it comes in green and red varieties. I'm pretty sure I used to buy oak-leaf lettuce in California.

  3. Have you thought of overwintering your own lettuce? Start it growing in the fall and cover it either in a hot box (I don't know if that's the real name - like a mini greenhouse) or with a row cover, but I think the hot box would be better where you all are.

    Here, in the Poitou-Charente, my mache and laitue both survived and even grew a little bit during Dec & Jan - I didn't cover them at all. We're a teetch warmer than you are, so a cover would probably do it.

    What I've read about winter crops mostly comes down to grow it in the fall and harvest in the winter.

  4. Hi Syd, we used to grow mâche in the wintertime when we lived in Silicon Valley in California. The temperature there hardly ever went down to freezing. We haven't tried growing mâche or laitue here in the winter, but I have collard greens growing and they have survived snows and freezing temps.

    We plan to get some tunnels de jardin this spring so we can give our tomatoes, eggplant, etc. a head start.

  5. miam miam I love a good salad... and with a few cold potato slices with a vinaigrette? OOOOOhhhh :))


  6. If you were so inclined, I'll be you could grow lettuces in the winter in your sun room downstairs.



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