In Paris last winter I met a friend for lunch on a chilly January day. The right bank bistro we chose was called Clown Bar, the name a clue that it was located near the city’s famous circus, Le Cirque d’Hiver. The landmark restaurant had been recently revitalized by a young team, and its menu reflected this with an offering of new, inventive dishes. One of the first things I spotted on it was a Salade de Mache et Croquettes de Camembert. The waiter explained that it was prepared with tender mache lettuce and garnished with warm crispy Camembert croutons.
The salad tuned out to be my favorite dish among many good ones that day. It was a brilliant pairing, both for its simplicity and for its contrasting textures and tastes. The tender mache lettuce tossed in a vinaigrette made a great counterpoint to the crunch of the fried Camembert.
At home, I tried my own version. Although mache rosettes were available at my local Whole Foods, I also used butter lettuce with equally delicious results. I cut a wheel of Camembert into cubes, coated them in flour, dipped them in some beaten egg, and finally dusted them with panko before pan frying them. The secret to making these croutons crisp on the outside with the cheese smooth and runny inside is to have the oil very hot when you add them to the skillet. Then you need to turn them every few seconds until they are golden on all sides, a process that takes only a minute or more.
Serve this salad as a opener for a fall supper or pair it with a hearty soup. Either way it should get top billing!
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Salad of Mache and Crispy Camembert Fritters
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp country Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp olive oil
Crispy Camembert Fritters and Salad
One 6- to 8- oz wheel Camembert
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup panko crumbs
2 large eggs
Canola oil for frying
8 to 9 cups mache or tender butter lettuce or Boston lettuce (4 1/2 to 5 oz)
1. For vinaigrette, whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and several grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil. (The dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature, and whisk well before using.)
2. For the Camembert Fritters, cut the wheel of Camembert (with its skin on) into 3/4 inch cubes. Place them on a plate and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.
3. Spread the flour on one dinner plate and the panko crumbs on another. Whisk the eggs until well blended in a shallow bowl. Remove the cheese from the freezer and coat a cube in the flour, shaking off excess, then coat in the egg mixture, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Finally, coat in panko crumbs and shake off excess. Repeat with all the cubes.
4. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy, medium skillet (a cast iron one works particularly well) over medium heat. When the oil is very hot, add 4 to 5 cubes of Camembert to the skillet.
Sauté them 5 to 10 seconds until they golden on the bottoms, and then using tongs, turn the cubes. Continue to turn them quickly every few seconds, until the cubes are golden on all sides. Total sautéing time will be only a minute or more. Remove the cubes with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining cubes.
5. To assemble the salad, toss the greens with just enough dressing to coat them lightly. (You may have some left over; save for another use.) Mound lettuce on six salad plates and garnish each serving with some warm Camembert fritters. Serves 6.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015