I was headed to Le Maquis bistro on rue des Cloÿs on the far side of Montmartre in Paris to meet with Paul Boudier, one of the restaurant’s two chef-owners, for a lesson in frisée aux lardons, a classic salad built from bitter greens, bacon and egg.

As I walked the streets of Paris in the early morning, the air offered up a damp chill, combining a complex perfume of dog, garbage, exhaust and croissant.

Le Maquis is well known for its natural wine list, low prices and excellent fare—lunch can be had for around $25, and that includes three courses. Yet another reason to move to Paris.

Frisée aux lardons, otherwise known as salade Lyonnaise, offers the perfect juxtaposition of flavors: sharp, bitter greens; unctuous fat and umami from the rendered lardons (small pieces of bacon or other fatty pork); creaminess from the runny egg yolk; a sharp bite from the shallot-mustard vinaigrette; richness from the olive oil; and croutons or sautéed breadcrumbs for crunch. Like any “simple” recipe, the devil—and the flavor—is in the details.

For our version, the first step was to settle on the meat. We tried pancetta, but found it a tad boring and preferred a full 8 ounces of thick-cut bacon. We tested a variety of greens, but the bite and sturdiness of frisée or other bitter greens is crucial here—mild greens need not apply.

The secret to the perfectly poached egg?

Frisee Salad i40 Poached Eggs

After testing many techniques, we found that the most reliable approach is to drop eggs into 3 quarts of barely simmering water acidulated with vinegar. The acid in the vinegar helps firm up the whites, while the large volume of water holds its temperature well for proper poaching.

As for the vinaigrette, we held the mustard to just 2 teaspoons (in my opinion, the French overdo the mustard thing in dressings) and made the dressing in a Dutch oven after cooking the bacon. We first cooked the shallots in a bit of the bacon fat, then deglazed with vinegar, then finished it with a bit of olive oil, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper.

Boudier poaches eggs in simmering water without the help of vinegar (a hack some use to firm up the eggs so they don’t get wispy)—he does not like the flavor. Instead, he swirls the water in the saucepan and places the eggs in the water using a circular motion in the opposite direction. We tested a variety of methods, one of which was to let the eggs sit in a small bowl of half water and half vinegar before cooking, but we ended up with a standard approach, adding ¼ cup vinegar to 3 quarts of water and cooking the eggs at a bare simmer. It’s a more surefire approach for most home cooks.

Boudier uses breadcrumbs instead of croutons, but we preferred the bigger crunch of croutons made with torn country-style bread briefly toasted in the Dutch oven.

The culinary scene in Paris is changing fast, with younger, more diverse chefs breaking out and offering new dishes with new flavors, but one often returns to the classic bistro menu. These time-honored recipes survive and prosper for a reason. Frisée aux lardons, oeuf mayonnaise, leeks vinaigrette, blanquette de veau—all are greater than the sum of their parts.