A Salad for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner
Annie Cuggino of Q Restaurant and Bar shares the salad for every occasion.
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT MORNICK
“This salad is easy to make and is easily one of the best you’ve ever had,” Annie Cuggino insists with a smile. “Everybody has a favorite, but the poached egg salad is top of the list. I took it off Q’s brunch menu a handful of times to test new dishes, because there is only so much room on the menu. But every weekend, guests would ask for the salad. So we brought it back, and it has remained a fixture ever since.”
Chef Annie is the executive chef of Q Restaurant and Bar. She has a storied career, which includes working with culinary talents Danny Meyer, Michael Romano, and Emeril Lagasse. But Portlanders know her best as the longtime head chef at the recently closed Veritable Quandary, one of the city’s most beloved downtown haunts. Veritable Quandary closed in 2016, after 45 years in business, but that wasn’t the end of the line for Annie—or for her team, many of whom she’s worked with for decades.
With her new restaurant, Q, Annie and her team created a casual, welcoming space with delicious food. “I don’t want people to think we are food geniuses or that we are creating exotic, unusual dishes. I am not that kind of chef,” Annie says. “I am a people pleaser. I want there to be variety on the menu, things that are recognizable, yet elevated in taste, compared to what guests prepare at home.”
This recipe is useful for the home cook to have in his or her arsenal. It is not the most exciting dish, but it is versatile and delicious. Annie explains, “the salad requires ingredients usually on hand at home: bacon and eggs, an onion, and a chunk of cheese. Whether breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner – you pick. It is well suited for any meal. It is also fun to eat.”
With the cool lettuce, crisp pickled onions, and warm bacon and cornbread, the salad is a mixture of different temperatures and textures. The poached egg makes the dish interactive, adding to the creamy finish of the cheese and dressing. The warm cornbread adds a savory crunch. The flavors are different but tie together. No two bites are the same. And if you make this salad for brunch and pour yourself a Bloody Mary, Annie ensures, you can’t go wrong.
The recipe is emblematic of Q. The restaurant is simple, approachable, and delicious. Which may speak to why the poached egg salad is a long-standing favorite.
Annie smiles. “We all have our own way of doing things. I take ingredients that seem ordinary and simple and combine them in a way that makes them special. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. To share a combination of ingredients that maybe people wouldn’t think of at home, that is a big part of our job. And, of course, to make people happy.
Q Restaurant and Bar
828 SW Second Ave, Portland.
For reservations call (503)-850-8915
Poached Egg Salad
This dish is a favorite at Q. Though it takes a little time to prepare its components from scratch, the recipes are straightforward and involve items commonly found in a home kitchen. This recipe is for four salads, but you will have extra dressing and pickled onions for later.
Serves 4 | 10 minutes to assemble
White Cheddar Buttermilk Dressing
15 minutes active time
7 ounces white cheddar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Dijon
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons sugar
cayenne, salt, pepper to taste
Grate the cheddar into a large metal bowl. In a pot, add cream, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. While whisking, gradually pour over cheddar. Stir in Dijon, sugar, garlic, and buttermilk. Season to taste with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate.
15 minutes active time
1/4 cup hot bacon fat
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 325°F. Pour bacon fat in baking pan and grease all sides. Place baking pan in oven to warm. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Combine wet and dry ingredients gradually, whisking to remove lumps. Remove baking pan from the oven.
Pour batter into the pan, and let rise uncovered for 15–20 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool, quarter, and set aside.
Pickled Red Onions
15 minutes active time
1 large red onion
2 cups rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoon salt
1/3 teaspoon chili flakes
Peel and slice onion into half inch rings. Place onion rings in a heat-resistant container. In a pot, combine rice vinegar with sugar, salt, and chili flakes. Stir to dissolve. Bring vinegar to a boil, making sure the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and pour over onions. Be sure the onions are fully submerged. Use a plate to weight them down, if necessary. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Build the Salad
2 heads butter lettuce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
¼ cup smoked bacon
1 3-inch cornbread square
white cheddar buttermilk dressing to taste
1 tablespoon pickled red onions
2 tablespoons aged white cheddar
1 bunch chives, minced
Cut the root ends of the butter lettuce heads, separate, and gently rinse leaves. Fill a four-quart pot 3/4 full with water (approximately 8 cups), add 1/2 tablespoon of rice vinegar. Put on medium-high heat to bring to a steady simmer.
Cut bacon into 1/2-inch thick slices, then cut into rectangles. In a medium skillet over medium heat, render fat from bacon until edges are crispy. Remove bacon and set aside. With remaining fat, toast cornbread on both sides until crispy and set aside.
Crack each egg into a separate dish, set aside.
To assemble the salad, put half of the buttermilk dressing in a medium mixing bowl and about a tablespoon on the center of each plate. Place cornbread on top of dressing in center of each plate. Coat each leaf of lettuce on both sides, by gently dragging through the dressing in the bowl. Starting with the largest pieces and ending with the smallest, layer lettuce on top of the cornbread, alternating directions with each piece. To stabilize, gently press down in middle of stack. Use five to six pieces of lettuce for each salad.
Sprinkle red onion and lardons on plate.
To poach the egg, stir simmering water, and while still spinning, carefully drop egg into the center of pot for 3 minutes, making sure white is set, but yolk is still soft. With a slotted spoon, remove the egg from the water, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place on top of butter lettuce.
Finish salad with shaved white cheddar and a sprinkle of chives.
West Coast photographer Matt Mornick specializes in photographing food, people, and travel. His portfolio is available at mornick.com.