Tender, pink chicken livers, young asparagus and pea shoots are perfect with a creamy vinaigrette of sherry and Dijon mustard spooned over them, says Simon Hopkinson.
It was at my tiny table in an equally tiny Lyonnais mâchon in the early 1980s that I first sat down to a salad of pale-yellow tendrils of frisée, hot and crisp lardons, small croutons and a poached egg, dressed with the most delicious mustard vinaigrette.
A mâchon is particular to that boldly gastronomic city — not quite a bistro, more than a cafe and with a precise list of traditional dishes — and the vinaigrette in question was a revelation both in its pungency and its emulsive, creamy consistency. I was hooked.
Presented in a roomy bowl with spoon and fork so that you could dress it yourself, with an empty plain white plate placed in front of me, so generous was its serving that I, rather meanly, cancelled my order of a small steak-frites to follow. Having clocked a board of immaculately à point Saint Marcellin cheeses on entering the premises, I knew that I would be unable to entertain both.
Thus began my affair with the salade tiède. In the early 1980s, warm salads were all the rage — well, in London, certainly. They may have taken a little longer to reach the provinces. A particularly popular version was one that used hot chicken livers, cooked pink and served with a sherry-vinegar dressing.
This salad, served with new-season asparagus and little new potatoes — the Cornish ones should be just in by now — together with fragrant pea shoots, takes on an altogether English flavour.
Recipe: Salad of chicken livers, asparagus and pea shoots
- About a dozen small new potatoes, scraped clean
- 12 thin asparagus (not sprue, the first early thinnings), trimmed of hard stalk, sliced into short lengths
- 4 small boiled eggs (for no longer than 4–5 minutes), peeled
- 4 thin rashers streaky bacon
- 400g (about) chicken livers, trimmed
- 160g pea shoots (Waitrose sells 80g packets)
- 2 small shallots, thinly sliced (or spring onions)
- A squeeze of lemon juice
For the dressing
- 3 tspn Dijon mustard
- 2 tspn sherry vinegar
- 1–2 tbspn hot water
- 200–250ml sunflower oil (not olive or rapeseed, please)
Simmer the potatoes in salted water — with a sprig of mint or two, if you like — until tender. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and put on a plate. Now, boil the asparagus in the same water until tender, drain and plunge into iced water. Drain once more and add to the potatoes.
Dry-fry the bacon until crisp, remove to a plate, then quickly cook the livers in the bacon fat until only just firm to the touch — they should be pink within.
To make the dressing, put all the ingredients into a jar and vigorously shake until emulsified. If you want a very creamy look to the dressing, use one of those small food processors.
To assemble the salad, pile the pea shoots on a large oval plate. Squeeze the lemon juice over them and tumble all together.
Once neat and tidy, slice the chicken livers, potatoes and eggs and evenly distribute these, with the asparagus, over the leaves.
Break the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle these over the salad, together with the shallots, before finally spooning on the dressing. Serve forthwith.
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