Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beetroot, red onion, red cabbage, crème fraîche and chervil salad

If you choose to Bunbury in town and if the town is London, consider dining at St. John. The restaurant resides in a former smokehouse in London’s Smithfield Meat Market. St. John’s Fergus Henderson is a catalyst of today’s whole beast movement. His first cookbook is Nose to Tail Eating [1999] and its sequel is Beyond Nose to Tail [2007].

Although Henderson may be responsible for tongue, heart and pig’s tail finding their place on fashionable metropolitan menus, it is a mistake to only focus on his nose to tail credentials. His cookbooks cover more than how to prepare offal. He states in his Nose to Tail Eating introduction: “This is a book about cooking and eating at home with friends and relations, not replicating restaurant plates of food.” His cookbooks share a kinship with Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. Both authors feature “simple” cooking, but with a different focus. Olney memorialized traditional regional French cooking; Henderson creates a decidedly modern kind of British cooking using traditional ingredients.

Henderson’s brilliance is his use of ingredients that are often more arranged than manipulated. Here is a recipe that embodies this approach. It is a salad of beetroot, red onion, red cabbage, crème fraîche and chervil.

  • Healthy splashes of extra virgin olive oil
  • A little gesture of balsamic vinegar
  • A small handful of extra-fine capers
  • Sea salt and black pepper

  • 2 raw beetroot, peeled and finely grated
  • ¼ raw red cabbage, cored, very finely sliced
  • 1 small red onion, peeled, cut in half from top to bottom, finely sliced
  • 6 healthy dollops of crème fraîche
  • 2 healthy bunches of chervil, picked

Mix everything together for the dressing. Toss all your raw red vegetables in the dressing, then on six plates place a bushel of this red mixture. Next to this, nustle your blob of crème fraîche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers. Finally, a clump of the chervil rested next to the other ingredients in the friendly fashion. A very striking salad ready for the eater to mess up.

If you try this salad a number of things will stand out. Although unique and elegant, it is extremely easy to create using generally available ingredients. Perhaps the chervil and crème fraîche might be a tad more difficult to find. Do not let this deter you—most good markets carry both.

You will also find that that this salad offers a spectrum of flavors, textures and colors. The crème fraîche is round and rich. The sweet balsamic vinegar and briny capers play off the cream’s richness. The red ingredients add a wonderful crunch while the green chervil contributes a mild yet essential liquorice flavor.

Finally, and most importantly, this salad is delicious and fun to eat. It is constructed for your eaters to deconstruct. You get to fool around with fork and knife and make a mess.