Thursday, October 14, 2010

A "Petit" Déjeuner in the Very Literal Sense

It is a fairly well established fact that the French do not screw around when it comes to food. I can hardly blame them. If I had my own country, it also would probably have lots of good food and lots of vacation days. It's not a bad way to be. If you ignore all the other social, political, and economic issues, of course.

One of the things I love most about French food is how it repeatedly and excellently elevates the humble to the sublime. Is there anything better than sitting outside a cafe on a sunny day with a fresh crusty baguette smeared with a dab of ripe, semi-stinky cheese, accompanied by a glass of chilled rosé and some delightful company? I think not.

I am not entirely sure where I heard about the classically French combination of radishes with sea salt and butter but I am a convert. It's not so much a recipe as an assemblage of four simple components: radishes, thinly sliced - it helps to have a mandoline for this and if you do, set it to 1/8"; baguette, also sliced; softened (but not melted) butter, ideally President if you really want to be authentic but good unsalted American butter will do; and fleur de sel, the kind of sea salt you can crunch up between your fingers. I like Maldon.

I can't eat a radish without thinking of Nana, who always, ALWAYS, had them thinly sliced in the green salad she served alongside dinner. I have always loved the freshness and crunch of radishes although I will say this recipe works slightly better with the milder spring radishes than the heartier fall ones. The fall ones have a bit more bite. Nevertheless, if you like radishes, you can solve this seasonal issue with just a tad more butter and salt.

Assembly of this little lunch treat is as follows:

1. Spread baguette slice with butter. You want it to be visible on the bread like a spread, not scraped into the crumb. But not too generous with the butter or it'll kill the flavor of everything else.

2. Sprinkle fleur de sel over the butter, crunching up the little salt pyramid-flakes into smaller bits. If you don't know what I am talking about you are not using the right salt. You can certainly try this with kosher salt or sea salt ground from a salt grinder but I can't promise it will taste as it should. Please do not use normal iodized salt. In a dish with so few ingredients, the quality of each matters that much more, so I am going to be unapologetically snobbish about this salt thing.

3. Layer the radishes on top. Just one layer is fine, with a little overlap. Press them gently into the butter.

4. Take a bite. If the flavors do not wow you, try a little more salt on the next one. You'll know when you have the right proportions because it will be delicious. It's an art, not a science.

 A perfect little Saturday lunch.

No comments: