I first came across braised endives in an awful job many years ago. I was nominally hired as au pair in a very snobby nouveau riche family in the 16th. Being pretentious gits, they had a cook/housekeeper. Being cheap, they hired an illegal immigrant from Mauritius and treated her very, very badly. And they shouldn't have done, because she was a treasure: cheerful, hard-working, and a fantastic cook. (Of course I would never argue they should treat her badly if she were depressed, lazy and a bad cook, but it was augmenting the crime.) I will always regret that I left that job (in a hurry, I might add) without getting her recipe for samosas. They were wonderful.
And so were the braised endives. I wandered in the kitchen one afternoon, drawn by the savoury smell of chicken and an indefinable vegetable. I saw them bubbling merrily in a milky sauce. And I asked, "What on earth is that?" She looked at me as though I had suddenly dropped down from the Planet of the Terminally Clueless and said "Why, braised endives, of course!"
That night, I stopped at the Úpicerie on my way home and bought a kilo of them. I remember they were wrapped in a piece of paper that, very helpfully, had recipes for cooking them. It's as though my guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder, directing the fates in my direction: it included one for braised endives.
I can't give credit for the following recipe as I have no idea what Belgian Endive Food Board had the bright idea of putting recipes on the paper that was used to wrap the darlings. But I am grateful. That was some 12 years ago and I'm still making them the same way. I haven't even tried to improve them as I think they are perfect as they are. This is coming from a girl who thinks that cooked celery is an abomination to man. And endives aren't that far from celery in texture.
Look at the photo at the beginning of this post. Don't they look comforting and tasty? They are. This is the only comfort food I know that is relatively low-calorie and really good for you. Okay, there is chicken soup. But still, it's pretty rare.
3-4 Belgian endives (enough to fill your frying pan snugly when sliced in half lengthwise)
3-4 Tbs butter
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbs (roughly) lemon juice
1 scant tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Put the butter in a nice heavy bottomed frying pan and heat until it is frothing. Slice the endives in half lengthwise and add them to the pan, keeping the heat relatively high so that the butter browns (but does not burn!) and the edges of the endive caramelize. After a few minutes, when you really think you are in danger of burning the butter and/or the endives, turn down the heat to low and pour in the chicken broth. (If you are Barrett, you can use vegetable broth.) Sprinkle the sugar and lemon juice over the endives and cover loosely. Simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. (Obviously it depends on the size/thickness of your endives.) Salt and pepper to taste.
It's that simple. I make this pretty frequently when the Critic is away at an Official Function. I also sometimes make up a batch solely to bring in to work for lunch. It's my secret indulgence. The sauce goes milky and is full of chicken flavour and salt and a touch of sugar. The endives, even when tender, retain a bit of bite and are steeped in the wonderful broth. It's a fantastic combination.
Weight Watchers note: if you braise these in a non-stick pan and limit the butter to two teaspoons per serving (I find two endives are usually a good serving) and keep the sugar at 1/2 a tsp per serving this is only 2.5 points per serving. You can increase the broth to 250ml and serve it in a bowl for a satisfying, filling and low-point lunch!