The Treachery of Origins – or – Ceci N’est Pas Une Salade Niçoise

Origins of a dish are an ephemeral thing, full of nuance and speculation.And as debates rage about the invention of many dishes in the modern pantheon, those dishes morph and change to accommodate modern tastes or based on ingredient availability so the current incarnation may bear little resemblance to the original dish. The Salade Niçoise is just one example of many.

A farmer market bounty of beautiful greens, fresh green beans and new potatoes connected quite naturally to my recollection of a Salade Niçoise. The “Americanized” version typically includes green beans and new potatoes along with the required tuna, anchovies and Niçoise olives. Versions of this recipe can be found many places (such as Saveur, Epicurious or even Julia Child). Amazingly, two of those three listed, including the Julia Child’s version, does not even include Niçoise olives.

Consensus seems to building on what should be in a Salade Niçoise based on the opinion of Jacques Médecin in his book Cuisine Niçoise (a great discussion on that can be found here) which explicitly forbids new potatoes and green beans and features tomatoes much more prominently. This approach is apparently more faithful to origin in Nice, France. The current American version is akin to calling a dish Florentine because spinach and white sauce were added, with no real connection to Florence, Italy.

The inspiration of our salad as French mattered only in so far as it further tied the dish to Great Lakes Cuisine due to the historic settlement of the Great Lakes region by the early French voyageurs and fur traders coming down what is now known as the St. Lawrence seaway. Yet the belief that the inspiration was the classic French salad led to a much deeper investigation of the French history in the Great Lakes region. Much of the settlement of the area was not by French nationals or French military simply claiming lands in the New World. The process took generations and was much more gradual. In fact, many of the enduring settlements in the region were populated to a large degree by a multi-racial, multi-cultural mix of French and the indigenous peoples, which can be more accurately captured by a term not often associated with the Great Lakes region – Creole (read more about the use of that term here).

1753 Devaugondy
Image from the Library of Congress

The research into French settlement in the region further led to details on the farming communities which were established to support these settlements. In one, there is a very specific mention of raising beans and potatoes to support the community. And so we are brought full circle to our Early Summer Salad presented here.

In our preparation, the green beans and potatoes were cooked over an open fire, which even furthers our connection to our early French settlers. A soft boiled egg tops our salad, rather than the more Mediterranean options of anchovies and tuna, though whitefish would have a good option in this preparation, which were reported to be plentiful around the French settlement in La Baie (which became Green Bay, Wisconsin).  And no, there are no olives here.

An argument could be made for calling this a Creole Salad in line with the larger discussion on mixed race settlements alluded to earlier, but Creole Cuisine is already largely defined in the American mind and would only cause confusion. So we elected to simply call this our Early Summer Salad in honor of the harvest time for the ingredients. This is not a Salade Niçoise. This is, however, Great Lakes Cuisine. Local ingredients with lengthy ties to the area, ethnic traditions provided inspiration (though in a very circuitous fashion), and re-imagined for modern tastes. Imagine this coming fresh from your own farm, prepared over an open fire. Even better if you don’t have to imagine it.

Early Summer Salad

4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
8 oz. green beans
1 Tbs. butter, melted
8 small new potatoes, quartered
4 large eggs
16 oz. mixed greens
dried herbs (herbs de provence)
garlic powder

Apple cider vinaigrette (see note below)

Prepare grill to medium heat. This can also be prepared stove-top. Place cast iron pan large enough to hold potatoes in one layer on to grill. Toss potatoes with butter, pinch of salt, pinch of garlic powder, and pinch of herbs de provence. Add to cast iron pan. Place diced bacon into a cast iron pan large enough to hold the green beans and place on grill to cook until just crisp. Remove bacon and leave 1 Tbs. of fat in pan. Add green beans and toss with bacon fat to coat. Allow green beans to roast for approximately 20 minutes or until just cooked through. Allow potatoes to roast for approximately 60 minutes until soft and golden crisp. Poach eggs in gently boiling water, about 4 minutes.

Note: We make a house vinaigrette with a house-made malt vinegar made with a wheat saison, but apple cider vinaigrette will work well here. We also roasted shallots to add to the dressing as well. Store bought will work fine, or consider making one with 3 Tbs. vinegar, 1/2 cup oil, and Penzey’s Country Vinaigrette seasoning mix and then add a shallot, diced and caramelized.

To assemble salad, toss greens with just enough vinaigrette to lightly moisten. Pile greens on plate, add a small pile of green beans and a few potatoes per plate. Top with poached egg, a spoonful of vinaigrette and sprinkle with crisped bacon.

Early Summer Salad

In Praise of Smoked Trout

I have a special fondness for trout. They are a beautiful jewel of a fish, found in some of nature’s most pristine and precious settings. On a mountain lake at Colorado twilight, nearly silent but for the light ripple of the lure hitting the mirrored surface of the water, anticipating, feeling for the pull, completely focused on that moment, that motion and then the strike. Fishing there with my father and my brothers, we caught a dozen rainbow trout, filleting them right at the shore. A campfire burning, with a tripod rig and a grill to hold a cast iron pan. A stick of butter, a sliced sweet onion, a couple sliced cloves of garlic, simmered slowly until golden brown and then the fresh filleted fish added. Amongst the finest things I’ve ever eaten. The setting, the company, the delicate flavor, the moment. Our memories, our emotions inevitably inform our sense of taste. For me, trout evokes both that sense of taste and the connection to place.

That connection to place brings us back to the Great Lakes region, which has a number of decent trout streams, though admittedly nothing like the American West in number. Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are particularly well-suited to re-establishing the brook trout. In addition, a number of local firms have scaled up the production of stream-raised trout. A recent trip to the local farmers market yielded a few unexpected delights including this lovely bit of smoked trout from Silver Moon Springs in Elton, WI, perfect for a smoked trout dip appetizer.

Smoked Trout

Built on a natural trout stream in the early 1950s, Silver Moon Springs began to sell trout raised there in the late 1970s and continues now into the third-generation. Now I’ll contend that nothing beats catching a brook trout on a crystal clear stream as the sun sets into the pines and smoking it over an applewood fire, but a decent alternative is to have this lovely piece of fish prepared for you, vacuum-packed and ready to go. If you can’t make it to a farmer market where they are selling, an alternative is Rushing Waters – another fishery in Wisconsin, which sells online and ships nationally.

Smoked Trout Dip

6 oz. of smoked trout

4 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. quark cheese or goat cheese (see note)
1 clove finely diced green garlic or 1 Tbs. chopped chives
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
1 tsp. salt

Lemon juice
Hot Sauce

Sliced kohlrabi, cucumber, or crackers for service

Note: The “accent” cheese used in this recipe does matter a great deal. We have had the great fortune of using the standard Quark and the Maple Quark from Clock Shadow Creamery in Milwaukee, WI, though we have also made this with a soft goat cheese, such as a chèvre. Quark is a soft, semi-sour cheese, something like a cross between sour cream and cottage cheese. If you can find quark and your variety is quite soft, omit the cream unless needed. Personal favorite – the lovely balance of sweet and sour in the Maple Quark from Clock Shadow Creamery. Have all cheese at room temperature before beginning.

Another note: Green garlic is simply the garlic bulb before it has fully matured and dried to the characteristic garlic pungency. It has more of a shallot flavor and texture but with the green onion overtones. You can find at the farmers market like we did or use fresh chives to get a similar result.

Place the cheeses, garlic/chives, thyme, cream (if using), and salt into a food processor and pulse to fully combine. Flake the smoked fish apart on a plate, removing any skin or bones. Add fish to the food processor and pulse briefly to combine. For this preparation we are just mixing the trout until fully combined, no further. Some prefer to fully process the trout into a smooth paste, more of a trout mousse.

A few additions to taste at this point: 1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice may be warranted to bring out all the flavors. Do not overdo the lemon as it tends to dampen the smoke flavors which will come more to the fore as the dip sits overnight. A drop or two of hot sauce, particularly a smoky hot sauce can add a very subtle enhancement to the dip. Store overnight and then taste test again, adding lemon, hot sauce or salt as needed. Remember that the trout is the star, so do not over-season.

Smoked Trout1

We served our dip with thinly sliced purple kohlrabi, another farmers market find. The light cabbage-like flavors and the beautiful crispness of the kohlrabi are a perfect foil for the trout dip. Cucumber is a traditional accompaniment, garden fresh would be ideal, but partially peeling the cucumber would be recommended. Alternatively, a good hearty cracker will work.

We have had opportunities to make variation of this with store bought smoked lake trout and home-smoked whitefish with similar positive reviews. The quality of the fish and the “accent cheese” really make a difference as does the overnight blending of flavors. This dip ends up being more about exploration than execution, more sourcing than technique. In the end, it reflects the places the ingredients come from more than the efforts of the chef. That seems to fit well in our exploration of Great Lakes Cuisine.


Brined, Grilled Buffalo Wings

We’ve documented our love of Buffalo Wings in the past, not only as a unique bit of Americana but also as inspiration for our Chicken Burger.  Playing around with approaches over the Fourth of July holiday recently lead to a brined, grilled variation we fell in love with. Thought we’d share.

Boneless and Skinless Chicken “Wings”

Brine: 2 cups water, bring to a rapid boil, then reduce to simmer. Add 1/2 cup sea salt, 4 bay leaves, 4 cloves garlic (smashed, skin on), 8 whole peppercorns, 1 whole dried ancho chile (seeds removed). Remove from heat and add 2 cups of ice. Resulting brine should now be near room temperature and taste like sea water (adjust salt or water accordingly).

Prepare the Chicken: This can be made with traditional wings, which are the wing assembly taken apart at the joints, but we prefer to make these with boneless, skinless thighs, cut into three long strips. Place the 2 lbs prepared chicken into the brine and allow to marinate overnight.

Next day, prepare a grill and heat to 400 degrees. Remove chicken thighs from brine and dry with paper towel. In a large sealable plastic bag, place 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon garlic salt. Add chicken and shake to coat. Place chicken on grill and cook about 10 minutes per side, until golden brown. Now if you want to get fancy, throws these on a hot smoker at about 350 degrees over applewood chips for a bit longer.

Buffalo Wings

Remove chicken and place into oven proof pan. At this stage you can refrigerate until ready for use.

Traditional Sauce: 8 Tbs. of butter (one stick), melted then whisk to combine with 1/2 cup hot sauce

Barbecue Sauce: 1 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup malt vinegar, 1 Tbs. smoked paprika, 1 Tbs. ancho chile powder, 1 Tbs. cracked black pepper, combine and simmer on low for 30 minutes.

Coat “wings” in sauce of choice in an oven-proof pan, and reheat at 350 degrees for 20 minutes then serve.

Lake Trout with Almond Browned Butter

Trout Almandine, coated in almonds and served with a brown butter sauce, is traditionally French but has been transplanted and rooted for generations now into New Orleans creole cuisine. This would not be a representative dish of Great Lakes cuisine, but I love the flavor and texture of fresh trout and prepared almandine (also spelled almondine) is a personal favorite. Luckily, lake trout is plentiful in the area because populations are rapidly increasing in the Great Lakes basin. Lake trout is actually a freshwater char, related to a salmon but distinct. Unlike salmon, it is actually native to the Great Lakes basin, though since exported to many other areas, it was once the alpha predator in the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The texture and flavor of the large lake trout is somewhere between the flake and texture of salmon with the slightly milder flavor of trout. Adapting the traditionally French approach to a local ingredient and then pairing it with a more local ethnic tradition brings us back to our Great Lakes roots and we share the fruits of that process here.

We wanted to prepare on the grill and adapted the traditional almond/brown butter approach. Our sides are grilled roasted cabbage, radicchio, with shallots and baked, cheese-filled potatoes. Combining the whipped potato filling with the cabbage creates a dish not unlike Irish colcannon but with greater complexity and richness, a lovely complement to our grilled trout.

Lake Trout with Almond Browned Butter

1 lb. fillet of Lake Superior Lake Trout
½ cup salted butter (1 stick)
½ cup thin sliced almonds

Place butter in a saucepan over medium heat to melt and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until it just begins to brown. Add almonds, stirring continuously and remove from heat immediately upon slight browning of the almonds. Strain almonds from butter and place on a paper towel to drain, reserve butter. This can be done several hours or a day in advance. Prepare a grill with hardwood charcoal. Using aluminum foil, create a “pan” large enough to hold the fillet. Spread half the reserved butter on the fish and sprinkle lightly with salt. When coals are ready and grill is approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, place fish on grill, cover grill and allow to cook until fish just begins to flake, 6 to 10 minutes. Cut into servings and serve topped with remaining butter and sprinkled with almonds.

Grilled Cabbage and Radicchio

1 head Savoy cabbage
1 head radicchio
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning (see note)
Salt and pepper

½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. stone ground mustard
1Tbs. malt vinegar
1 tsp. Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning

Note: Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning is a hand-mixed blend of crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sage. You can get it here or approximate the blend at home.

Prepare grill. Slice the cabbage into eights through the core, leaving leaves attached. Quarter the radicchio in the same manner, sprinkle with olive oil and seasonings. In a glass bowl large enough to accommodate all the greens, combine all dressing ingredients, whisk to combine and set aside. When coals are ready and grill is approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, place greens on grill and cover. The radicchio will cook in about 4 minutes, flip once half way through cooking. The cabbage will take 8 minutes, again flip half way through. Being careful not to overly char the greens, here is what it should look like coming off the grill.

Cabbage Roasted

Place finished greens into glass bowl with dressing, toss to coat. Serve immediately, or if you are cooking the cabbage before the fish, re-heat at time of service.

Baked Whipped Potatoes
12 small red potatoes (or similar style)
1 cup grated cheese (see discussion below)
1 cup mayonnaise

In a large pot, half-filled with water over medium high heat, boil potatoes until just soft, approximately 20 minutes, then remove from water and allow to cool. Can be done several hours or a day ahead of time. When cool, cut in half along the longest dimension, and use a melon baller or small spoon to hollow out potatoes. Leave about ¼ inch of potato in the skins and place the removed potato in a large bowl. Add cheese and mayonnaise to potato and whip until smooth. Refill the shells and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 20 minutes. A minute under the broiler will help brown the tops nicely.

Cheese: We used Carr Valley’s Menage, a blend of cow, sheep, and goat milk, which has a vibrant, rich flavor with a hint of the goat cheese tang. Consider using a semi-hard European-style cheese with enough punch to cut through the potato. Some options would include a well-aged white cheddar, a rind-washed Gruyere, or an aged Asiago.

Mayonnaise: We prefer a house-made mayonnaise which is simple to make if you have a blender, an egg, and some olive oil. But to simplify the recipe, store bought is a easy substitution.

We used purple potatoes for our preparation just to add a bit of additional color, but we’ve had these most often with red potatoes. The smaller potatoes lend themselves to creative plating options.


We enjoyed this meal with a Winds of Change from O’so Brewing which is a vibrant, hoppy, tart explosion of a beer. This is an IPA fermented with brettanomyces, it hits the tongue like a champagne crossed with a tart cider ale with hops coming along in the after-taste. Funky is a term often used for sour beers, and I’d use that term here, but not in the skunky-sense, but more the way it plays a surprising acidic counter-point to the rich foods we enjoyed.

Lake trout is surprisingly versatile and future endeavors will include grilling it on an applewood plank as well as smoking it and using as a topping for smørrebrød. A wonderful baseline ingredient for Great Lakes Cuisine.

Ooh Sa Sa, Kielbasa

Kielbasa means sausage in Polish and not a specific type or style, but in the United States and in particular around the Great Lakes region, kielbasa is pork sausage, often pre-smoked, in two standard forms. Either about the diameter of a quarter and “U” shaped or a single link. You can get them from Milwaukee-based  Klement’s or Usinger’s (or if you are lucky, locally from your favorite butcher). Or you can get it from these guys, the inspiration for our title, with their version of a childhood chant. Where ever you procure your kielbasa, here are two variations of Polish dishes to maximize your enjoyment of them.

Polish Sausage1

We initially intended to prepare the Klement’s kielbasa traditionally and serve with grilled onions and pickle with some stone ground mustard, but the lure of bigos is too strong. Bigos is in the same food family as Alsatian choucroute or any number of German preparations of smoked meats with sauerkraut. So we elected to go with smoked kielbasa heated over sauerkraut to which we had added smoked pork and smoked pork lard. We served it topped with caramelized red onions, tomatoes and the requisite pickle. The pretzel bun is toasted, buttered and then smeared with stone ground mustard.

Polish Sausage

So let’s pretend you don’t eat all of them in one epic feast, a few left-over smoked kielbasa are ideal in this next preparation:

Polish Bean Stew

Kielbasa and White Beans

16 ounces dried white beans
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup smoked lard (or butter)
3 smoked kielbasa links, sliced
28 ounce can tomatoes
1 Tbs. dried marjoram (or similar dried herbs)
4 cups low-salt chicken broth (see discussion below)
Salt and pepper

Goat cheese and fresh dill for garnish

We choose to quick-soak the beans, which involves covering them in water in a large pot and bringing to a boil for 2 minutes and then allowing to cool for an hour. See this discussion of soaking which pretty much covers anything we could say on the matter. We quick-soak to minimize cooking time in the oven, if you do not pre-soak, you may need more broth than indicated above. Drain the beans and set aside. In a large pot over medium heat, place 1/2 cup lard. We had lard from a pork shoulder smoked a few weeks prior and it adds a wonderful flavor, but you can use butter and perhaps a bit of smoked salt if you have it handy. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, cooking until starting to brown, then add garlic and kielbasa. Cook until kielbasa begins to render fat and caramelizes on the edges then remove from heat.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large earthenware pot with a cover, place the beans, tomatoes, and herbs. Add kielbasa mixture to earthenware dish and splash pot with chicken broth to remove any browned bits, then pour all chicken broth over the beans. Cover and bake until beans are tender but still retain structure, about 2 hours. The cook times can vary greatly based on the size and type of earthenware dish as well as the approach taken to the beans. Keep adding more water or broth as they cook to keep moist, but not soaked, along the lines of cooking a risotto.

This is ideally made a day or two in advance and refrigerated to allow flavors to blend. We served this topped with goat cheese blended with chopped fresh dill and a hearty sourdough bread with butter.

Polish Bean Stew1

A soul-satisfying, hearty winter stew with the added tang and creaminess of the dill and melting cheese. A delicious starting point for inspiration of new dishes in our Great Lakes Cuisine tradition. The only regret, no ice-cold glass of Tyskie alongside.