Belgium seems to have an affinity for difficult vegetables. Although the brussels sprout probably originated elsewhere, and is named through an accident of history, the Belgians actually went out of their way to invent the endive. While the initial technique seems to date from the Egyptians, it had hardly changed until 1850, when a Mr Bréziers obtained the first of the bitter jewels we know today.
Bitterness is an acquired taste: after all, it’s a signal of probable poison to our lizard brain. But it seems enough of us have an affinity for it (or maybe a death wish) that Campari sells well, as do Endives. It probably helps that they are one of the few truly fresh vegetables you can find in the middle of winter.
This of course doesn’t really matter in Abu Dhabi. Winter is just the season were you can actually walk outside without melting. And my local grocery store thinks nothing of selling endives next to strawberries… But after a few years in the region, I guess we’re yearning for some comfort food once in a while, which is why I’ve found myself cooking some endives a lot lately.
Family recipes for endives and brussels sprouts tend to be of the “beat the bitterness into submission” type. So I’ve been guilty of over steaming the endives (when I wasn’t pressure-cooking them) until they were gray slabs of pulp, then smothering them in (yes, sometimes store bought) bechamel sauce and tons of cheese.
Last time however, I’d seen the actual price tag attached to the 4 pack of endives, which puts it in league with caviar and foil gras, not potatoes and carrots. So I decided that 1) my kids were getting potatoes and carrots and 2) I was going to turn to ze web to find out how the pros do it. Of course, my trusty Chef Simon had the answer, as usual. Short, to the point, no fuss. Here’s a link to the recipe, and to the rant he has against the latest hipster fashion of using endive leaves as spoons for high end buffet. All in French, but I’ll translate if you want to give it a go.
- For the Braised Endives: Endives (a 4 pack for 2 people) – Butter – Oil – Salt – Pepper – 1 large spanish Onion – Chicken stock – 2 heads Garlic – Cheese for the gratin (Emmental works well)
- For the Velouté: 100g Butter & 100g Flour per liter cooking juice
(numbers refer to the steps / pictures in Chef Simon’s recipe)
1- Clean and trim endives. This really means cutting off the outer leaves if they are broken or brown, and more importantly cutting a cone out of the bottom of the endive. Granny lore is that it’s where the bitterness is located. In reality, it’s just a tough piece of vegetable, and will never cook as fast as the rest of the endive. Make sure you leave enough to hold the leaves together, though. Also, chop off any bits of bright green on the edge of the leaves.
2 – Chop up a spanish onion (or 2 smallish ones).
3 – Melt the butter with a bit of oil, add the garlic. Adding oil to butter is a classic way to prevent it from burning. Not sure how it works, but it allows you to heat up your butter a bit longer and hotter than otherwise reasonable.
5 – Turn very regularly and let color on all sides. They should be golden. Salt and pepper to taste
6 – Add onions.
7 – Once they’re done coloring, add water or better yet, stock, up to about halfway. Cover and let braise over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes.
8 – The endives are done once you can poke them with a knife. Reserve on the side and keep the cooking liquid.
9 – Use the liquid to make a Velouté. Remember to measure the butter and flour according to the amount of liquid you have (complete with stock if you wish) : melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; add the flour in one go and stir; let cook and bubble to get rid of the raw flour taste; add cooking liquid in one go, stir and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until sauce thickens; add cream if you wish.
11 – If you wish, roll the endives in a slice of ham (cooked or Parma style).
12 – Cover with velouté, add grated cheese, put in the oven until cheese is properly melted and bubbly.
Serve, enjoy, and separate the chaff from the wheat among your acquaintances. Not everyone likes endives, but you’ll be doing those who do a favor.
Chef Simon adds a note about the amount of liquid and velouté you should make. If you’re serving this as a side, you can actually skip the liquid and cook the endives very, very slowly. They’ll candy in the stock and be a great foil to a roasted meat. If you’re serving as a main winter dish, by all means add as much stock as you want and make a nice and creamy velouté.
I’ll add my personal thoughts to it all: At first, you may think it’s so simple a recipe you can cut some corners. Trust me, don’t – everything is there for a reason (except for the onions, I don’ t much care for them.) I used to make my endives “almost the same way”, but they turned out dumpy and unsexy – why?, well: I was steaming the endives instead of braising them – so no caramelization flavors, no stock flavors, and way too much liquid trapped inside the endives; I was making a simple béchamel – so again, no taste from the braising (and a raw flour taste until i learned to cook the hell out of the flour first); I was making too much sauce – so a too rich dish, with not enough focus on the bitter crunchy gooeyness of the Eendives (yes, I said bitter crunchy gooeyness – trust me, this is exactly how you want them)
Please, let me know if you’ve made this recipe, and how it turned out. If it’s good, let Chef Simon know!