Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Nutty Vinaigrette

We took a bit of a circuitous route out west for the holidays. Flying across Canada is fiendishly expensive, so we ended up driving down to Buffalo, flying to Seattle and taking the bus up to Vancouver. In addition to saving us a couple hundred bucks, this journey had the added bonus of enabling us to stop for breakfast at one of our favourite spots in Seattle: Belltown fixture Le Pichet.

The first time I went to Le Pichet was when I was in Seattle for a work trip in 2008. I was staying down the road at the Ace Hotel. The coffee was delicious, the baguettes fresh and the décor and overall vibe wholly Paris by the Puget Sound. The next time, I took D. and we’ve made a point of stopping in, usually for breakfast (a croque-monsieur, perhaps, or just a pain au chocolat), whenever we’re in town.

This time, we ate eggs with ham and gruyere and some wonderful country style pork pâté, but the surprise highlight was a simple green salad with a delicious, nutty vinaigrette. It was so good, we had to ask the waitress how it was made and, to our delight, she suggested we check out the recipe on Le Pichet owner Jim Drohman’s blog

Now, at first blush, it looks like a bit of work, but now that I’ve made it a couple of times, I think I’ve hit on a couple of shortcuts that can save a bit of time without compromising the flavour. Once you get those down, you’ll find it’s actually a versatile and adaptable recipe. For example, the first time I made this, I subbed in walnuts for the hazelnuts, which changed the flavour, but was no less delicious. Here’s the original recipe, with annotations.

A Nutty Vinaigrette

1 cup orange juice
1 small shallot
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/3 cup organic Duchilly hazelnuts (for the vinaigrette)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
About 1 cup soy oil1
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 head organic Bibb lettuce
1/2 cup organic Duchilly hazelnuts (for garnish)

Heat the orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to 1/2 cup2. Cool. Toast the hazelnuts and cool. Peel and roughly chop the shallot.

Put the reduced orange juice, shallot, sherry vinegar, hazelnuts, and Dijon mustard in the blender3. Season with salt and pepper. Blend at high speed until homogeneous.

With the blender running, add the oil slowly until vinaigrette is the consistency of heavy cream. The actual amount of oil required may be slightly more or less. Do not let the blender run too long, as the vinaigrette will break if it gets too warm.

Taste the vinaigrette to adjust the seasoning. Add more salt or pepper if needed. If the vinaigrette is too acidic, add more oil with the blender running. If the vinaigrette gets too thick, thin with a bit of water.

Toss a little vinaigrette with lettuce, salt and ground fresh pepper.

1 Any neutral oil such as canola or safflower will work. I’ll also point out here that if you don’t have sherry vinegar, red or white wine will work as well.
2 To save some time, substitute a tablespoon or so of orange juice concentrate.
3 I used a food processor the second time I made this, which produced a much more textured product. Not in a bad way at all, just more crunchy than smooth. What I’m saying is, if you have a food processor or decent hand blender, you’re fine.

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