Salad for breakfast seems like a paradoxical concept whose design exists solely to annoy you. Salad is, after all, decidedly not a breakfast item. None of us have fond memories of finishing our morning salad in a hurry, then running out the front door to catch the school bus. None of us can recall a leisurely Saturday or Sunday morning spent preparing a big batch of breakfast greens as a family. No, society has agreed that salad is too dainty to serve our hefty appetites before noon. Search “breakfast salad” and the results aren’t promising. Hemp seeds, avocado, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and hard-boiled eggs sound healthful, and to a certain degree, tasty. But this is not breakfast in the traditional American sense. Here in this crumbling empire we call home, breakfast means two things: runny yolks and bacon.
I recently stumbled upon a recipe of Michael Ruhlman’s simply titled “Warm Arugula Salad with Bacon and Poached Eggs.” Ruhlman implies that this salad is a lunch staple in his home, but for my money, this is the closest you can get to an actual breakfast salad. The recipe itself is perfected, genius even. It combines bacon fat and vinegar to create a quick dressing of sorts. Arugula is the leaf of choice, a bitter green that contrasts the fatty bacon and rich egg yolk. The recipe is certainly a nod to the French Lyonnaise salad, which ought to be on a lot more menus here in the States. I’m a big fan of warm salads in general, and yes, I will defend the oft-maligned Pittsburgh Salad until the day I die. “Hot lettuce” doesn’t sound pleasant, but a plate of greens warmed with flavorful bacon fat is delightful.
Breakfast has a particular ethos in America; the first meal of your day is not necessarily “breakfast” by default. Recipes that call for hummus and feta and sprouts will forever be relegated to lunch territory. Good Lord, one day I cooked and ate veal parmesan at 9 in the morning, but that doesn’t qualify, either—it wasn’t so much “breakfast veal” as it was a ticket to Hell.
I used Ruhlman’s recipe and substituted a few ingredients, putting my own signature on it. I would be nowhere without Michael Ruhlman. Read his books.
- 1 bunch watercress
- 2 eggs
- 4 slices bacon, cut into ¼” thick lardons
- 2 shallots, sliced thinly
- 2-3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 head garlic
- Olive oil
- Home fries (optional; this makes what I would call a Pittsburgh Breakfast Salad)
First, make garlic confit: Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Peel each clove from an entire head of garlic and place the cloves in an oven safe container. (I filled a stainless steel, ramekin-sized vessel.) Submerge the garlic completely in oil, then cover the top tightly with foil. Cook for 45-60 minutes. The garlic should be soft and darkly golden. Let it cool. Save the leftover oil, which will be infused with garlic as well—it’s incredibly useful in a wide range of dishes.
Watercress usually comes in bunches, and while the stems are completely edible, I find it helps to cut the watercress off right at the sticker that binds it together. A little bit of stem is completely fine. Rinse thoroughly and place it in a big bowl.
Next, in a saute pan on low heat, add the bacon lardons. Slowly render out the fat until it’s sweaty, then turn the heat up to medium high. Finish cooking the bacon until browned, but not crispy (unless you like it crispy), then place in a separate bowl and set aside. The process of rendering bacon usually takes between 10-15 minutes.
In the same saute pan, add the thinly sliced shallots. Salt and pepper immediately, then cook until wilted. Some browning is preferred, but the shallot should maintain its bite.
At this point, you can combine the shallot, bacon, and bacon fat with the bowl of watercress. Toss thoroughly. Salt and pepper. Divide into 2 serving bowls.
For the poached eggs: Heat a small pot of water to a boil, then crack an egg into a ramekin or small bowl. Get a spoon and swirl the boiling water to create a whirlpool. Turn the heat off and dump in the eggs one at a time. Cook for 3 minutes. (Here’s an alternate method; see what works for you.)
I transfer the eggs with a slotted spoon to an ice bath for a minute or two, then pick each one up with my hand and remove any excess, poltergeist-looking egg whites. A quick dunk in the ice bath will firm up the soft-poached egg a little more and allow you to clean off its wispy bits without burning your hand.
Transfer each egg to the top of each salad, then spoon a few bits of garlic confit onto each serving. If you have home fries or some sort of breakfast potato, it’ll work well on this salad. A few golden fried hash browns would be great.
Cut the egg yolk sensually, then post the thirst trap to Instagram (see video above). Feel free to tag me.