It was just a small rectangle on the cheese plate at The French Laundry; a single bite of braised endive to complement the other elements on the plate (apricot, a square of pistachio cake, a sour ale gastrique).
But that single bite stayed with me. It was memorable because endive, which is normally bitter, becomes remarkably sweet when it’s cooked. Not entirely sweet, though; the flavor is complex–which is why braised endive has a place on the menu at such a distinguished restaurant. The surprise is that it’s really easy to make at home.
On Saturday morning, last week, I was making a typical breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs. But then I spied two heads of endive in the refrigerator and I thought, “Dare I?”
Here’s how it went down. I put the endive on my cutting board.
I cut off a little of each root end but not so much that the endive would fall apart when I cut it in half. Then I cut each endive in half:
I heated my large metal skillet with some butter and olive oil in it.
When it was very, very hot (I held my hand over it to know) I added the endive face down:
At this point things got a little smoky, loud and intense. That means everything’s going right.
After a minute or two, when the endive is good and brown, flip it over with tongs (this is a good point to season the endive with salt, too):
You’ll notice black bits at the bottom of the pan. Originally I thought I could braise the endive in there to make it a one-pot dish, but I didn’t want those black bits in my endive braising liquid. So I then transfered the endive to an 8 X 8 glass dish:
I squeezed the juice of a lemon all around and then added water to cover about halfway. Then I dotted each endive with a little more butter:
I covered the pan with foil and popped it into a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Then I took the foil off and let some of the liquid evaporate while the endive grew more tender and a little browner.
You know the endive is done when a knife goes through the base easily.
Braised endive, as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Traditionally, braised endive is served with meat (or, at The French Laundry, cheese) but it worked surprisingly well in the morning with eggs.
So give braised endive a go this weekend. You don’t need any fancy equipment or fancy plates to serve it; all you need is endive and a dream.