bitter foods for a sweet season: belgian endives bathed in butter

Christmas looks like it may be grey this year instead of white, but that doesn't make this season any less sweet. 
In the spirit of relaxing and celebrating, I'm taking off for a couple of week. I'll be ringing in 2015 in Myanmar, a country I know little about and a cuisine that I'm very excited to become acquainted with. 

But before I hit the road, I'll be eating rich roasts, fancy cakes, and indulging in the decadence that is Christmas. I'll also be bathing endives in butter, which I think that you should do too. There is nothing like a little bit of bitter to complement all of the season's sweets.
At the end of November Molly wrote about Belgian Endives Bathed in Butter, which I've made four times since. It sounds and tastes decadent and turns out to be the best way I now know to cook endives. 
 One time I ate the endives and their juices with quinoa. Another time with a fried egg. Another time I ate the leftovers straight out of the pan, using bread to scoop up as much as buttery, lemony, bitter liquid as possible. 
The recipe comes from Jennifer McLagan's Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor. She explains that since endives are mostly water themselves they should never be cooked in water. Instead they should be cooked in fat, lots of it. This is suiting since she is also the author of the cookbook Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient
The recipe uses lots of butter and just a little bit of fresh lemon juice to brighten things up. 
One of the times I made it I served it with duck confit and yellow beets. The fact that the duck was from my local butcher, pink on the inside and had crisp skin and that the endives were still the most delicious thing on the plate says everything. 
Think of this as a formula, and not a recipe. I've mostly halved the amount and it works just fine, although it yields less juice. In a pinch, I've also increased the heat of the oven so that it would be ready in less than two hours and that worked too. The recipe says to use an ovenproof skillet and to cook the endives in said skillet both on the stove top and then in the oven. I've done that, but I've also transferred them to a baking dish (as pictured) instead, which also works.

In other words if you follow this formula, you'll be well rewarded and pleased: Belgian endives + lots of butter + good salt + a little lemon juice + cooking them shortly in a skillet of hot butter and then roasting them slowly in the oven. 

Belgian Endives Bathed in Butter
from 'Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor' by Jennifer McLagan, via Orangette 
yields 4 servings
800 grams (1 3/4 pounds) Belgian endives (anywhere from 3-8 endives, depending on their size)
100 grams (7 tbsp) unsalted butter
coarse sea salt
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice juice
black pepper
Preheat oven to 300F / 150 C / gas mark 2.
Use a damp cloth to wipe the endives. Discard any leaves that have gone bad and, if needed, trim the stem ends. 
Place an ovenproof skillet (one that has a lid) over low heat and add the butter. If you don't have a skillet with a lid or prefer to use a baking dish for when the endives go in the oven, warm the baking dish in the oven as it heat. Proceed with a regular skillet.
Once the butter has melted, increase the heat to medium and let the butter cook until it smells nutty and the milk solids have started to brown. While it cooks, stir it from time to time, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.
Add the whole endives to the pan. Season them with salt and turn them with tongs to coat them in butter. Cook until they take on some color on all sides. If you are using the skillet in the oven, remove the skillet from the heat and pour in the lemon juice. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for 1 hour.
If you are using a baking dish instead, remove the heated dish from the oven and use the tongs to transfer the endives to the pan. Pour in the liquids from the skillet and add the lemon juice. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven for 1 hour. 
After an hour, remove the pan from the oven and carefully flip the endives. Cover it again and return to the oven. Cook for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the endives are very soft and limp.
Before serving, taste the pan juices and add more lemon juice if you please. Serve hot with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a few days.
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Illustration by Kera Till for Prantl
May your holidays be delicious and bright!

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