No one looks at a coil of barbed wire and thinks, “I would like to eat that.” Yet there are eaters among us who see a plate of frisée and think that very thought. Psychologists have a word for these people: masochists. How else to explain the inexplicable desire to consume razor-like stalks of pale green lettuce, each bite ravaging the inside of one’s mouth? It’s time for someone in the food world to stand up and expose frisée for what it really is: a sadistic trick of nature, seducing chefs and gardeners around the world with a hidden pheromone that creates the illusion that frisée is actually good to eat. I assure you, it’s not.
Me: NO YOU DON’T!!!
Charlotte: Why don’t I? I like its bitterness, and I know it can be a pain to eat, but I kind of like its wispiness too. Why don’t you like it?
Me: It hurts my mouth and it’s hard to spell.
To elaborate, frisée is unwieldy, it spirals off your fork and fights its way into your mouth, then fights its way down your throat. The bitter flavor is nice, I’ll give you that, but there are many greens that have a similarly bitter flavor–endive, for example–that aren’t nearly as unpleasant to eat.
Frisée defenders bring up the classic French Salad Lyonnaise, in which all of frisée’s negative traits are buried beneath lots of bacon and a poached egg. As noble an effort as that is, those elements would work just as well, if not better, in almost any salad. Try it on raw spinach, for example. Not only will you save yourself the agony of trying to swallow the bristles of a toilet bowl scrubber, you’ll probably get more nutrients from spinach too.
In very small doses, mixed together with other greens, frisée can be tolerable. For example, at lunch today I enjoyed a chicken salad that had cabbage, dates, toasted almonds, and just the tiniest whisper of frisée. The frisée was cut extra small so it was merely a visual cue that not every bite would be the same; and, with a very small leaf or two, I can see how frisée might be a capable, if unnecessary, salad addition.
But by itself? Frisée is a blight on our culinary landscape. The next time you’re at a dinner party and frisée makes an appearance, slam your wine glass to the floor and declare war, war on frisée. You may lose those friends forever, but at least you’ll have your honor. Fight the good frisée fight and our mouths will thank us forevermore.