Kale Salad with Pancetta, Brioche, and Pecans

There are summer salads–crisp, refreshing, and perfect for dining outside on a hot day–and then there are winter salads: nutty and richly flavored, with copious amounts of cheese or cured meats, perfect for pairing with a humble roast chicken or slow cooked stew. This kale salad falls under the later category, with crispy nuggets of fried pancetta, toasted pecans, brioche croutons, and an obscene amount of freshly grated Parmesan.

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The key to tender kale salad: thin cuts and a quick massage

I’m not going to lie, the term “massaged kale” gives me a bit of a headache, conjuring memories of 2012 bad food trends. I was in college eating in a co-op at the time, and almost every meal included some form of massaged kale. I think we overdid the kale trend a bit, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth revisiting! In fact, the science is all there. Massaging your kale really does help break down the fiber in the leaves, making it easier to chew and digest.

For this salad, we utilize a few key techniques to ensure you aren’t gnawing of tough and stringy kale leaves.

1. Remove the stems

Kale stems are tough and best reserved for sautéing. Simply use a knife to separate the leaves from the stems. Compost your stems, or save them for your next stir fry.

removing kale stems

2. Thinly slice the kale

I like to chiffonade (aka cut into thin strips) my kale for salads. These thin slices break down easier and and more palatable to chew. Simply roll a few leaves into a small parcel, then use a knife to thinly slice the leaves into strips.

3. Massage with salt

Finally, add a pinch of coarsely ground sea salt and use your hands to vigorously massage the kale to break down the fiber. This only take a few minutes, and you will notice that the kale will become much darker and feel softer to the touch. It will also shrink a bit as well. Once you do this step you are ready to dress and eat!


Kale Salad with Pancetta, Brioche, and Pecans

Course: SidesDifficulty: Easy
Servings

4

side servings
Total time

30

minutes

There are summer salads–crisp, refreshing, and perfect for dining outside on a hot day–and then there are winter salads: nutty and richly flavored, with copious amounts of cheese or cured meats, perfect for pairing with a humble roast chicken or slow cooked stew. This kale salad falls under the later category, with crispy nuggets of fried pancetta, toasted pecans, brioche croutons, and an obscene amount of freshly grated Parmesan.

Ingredients

  • For the croutons
  • 3 oz brioche bread

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • For the salad
  • ½ cup pecan pieces

  • 5 oz pancetta, diced

  • 1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale

  • 2 radishes, washed and thinly sliced

  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese

  • For the salad dressing
  • 2 oil packed anchovy filets

  • 1 small shallot, finely minced

  • 5 tbsp pancetta fat (sub olive oil)

  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar

  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard

  • Black pepper

Directions

  • First, make the croutons
  • Preheat the oven to 425.
  • Cut the bread into smaller cubes and place in a bowl. Coat generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Spread the cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes, until very brown and toasty. Brioche will toast very quickly, if you sub a different kind of bread expect this to take longer.
  • While the croutons cook, slice and massage the kale
  • Using a knife, remove the stems from each kale leaf and discard, or save for your next stir fry. removing kale stems
  • Working in batches, roll the leaves into a tight parcel, then use your knife to thinly slice the kale into strips. Repeat until all the leaves are sliced.
  • Place the kale in a large salad bowl and add in a sprinkle of course sea salt. Use your hands to massage the kale until the color is dark green and the leaves feel more tender to the touch. The kale will also shrink considerably.
  • Next, toast the pecans and cook the pancetta
  • Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and let cook, stirring every 10 seconds or so, until they smell intensely nutty and are lightly browned all over, about 3 minutes. Careful not to burn.
  • Remove the pecans from the skillet and add to the kale bowl.
  • Clean out the pan if needed, then add your pancetta with the heat off. Turn the heat onto medium and cook the pancetta until the fat is rendered and the pieces are brown and crispy. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat if things are moving too quickly. Remove the pancetta from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate. Do not discard the rendered fat!
  • Next, make the vinaigrette
  • Pound the anchovies to a paste (you can use a mortar and pestle or the bottom of a jar) and place in a small bowl with the minced shallots.
  • Pour in 5 tbsp of the reserved pancetta fat along with 2 tbsp of sherry vinegar (if you don’t have 5 tbsp fat reserved, sub in olive oil).
  • Add the mustard and lots of freshly grated black pepper and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. The anchovies and the pancetta fat have a decent amount of salt in them, so you may not need to add any more.
  • Finally, toss and serve
  • Add the croutons and radishes to the kale bowl. Add enough vinaigrette to coat the leaves and toss to combine. Taste a few leaves to make sure they are dressed sufficiently. Depending on the size of your kale bunch, you may decide to add in a little extra olive oil or vinegar.
  • Top with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
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