Along with its Provençal cousin bouillabaisse, Salade Niçoise is the perfect example of peasant food made good!
Hailing from the Cote d’Azur in the South of France, Salade Niçoise has always been popular and is considered one of the classic salads of the world. Whilst it’s undeniably a dish of humble beginnings, its ingredients have grown in sophistication, along with the salad’s popularity. Quail eggs, seared bluefin tuna steaks, asparagus – all have found their way into Niçoises the world over.
Whilst traditionally the inclusion of tuna in a Niçoise Salad is by no means a given, there was a time when good-old tinned tuna would suffice. Nowadays however, seared tuna steaks seem to have become the norm in swankier eateries. Controversially, I personally still prefer some good quality tinned tuna over a slab of seared tuna any day! Not only do I think it’s a criminal waste of precious, overpriced tuna, it is also often a tad bland and doesn’t stand up well to the intensity of the other ingredients. Good tuna deserves to be the star of the show and in a Niçoise, though, it is often lost in the riot of competing flavours. Save it for sashimi, I say.
It seems, however, that I’m in the minority in my tuna preference. So much so, I’ve even had waitrons apologizing because the Niçoise salad on the menu was “just” made with tinned tuna. They usually seem a bit surprised when I order it in spite of their dire warnings and forebodings! The truth is that a lot of things can make for a bad Niçoise salad, good quality tinned tuna isn’t one of them, but if seared is your thing, please don’t let me dissuade you!
These days just about anything passes as a Niçoise salad, in fact, there is really no definitive version of this classic French salad. Whether it be the anchovies, tuna or potatoes, everybody seems to have their own ideas with regards to which combination makes for the perfect Niçoise. To be honest though, as with most things, it really comes down to personal taste. Carb-conscious? Ditch the potatoes. Not fan of tuna? Leave it out. Hate anchovies? Eat a different salad!
For more great salads from The Muddled Pantry, please click here
Salade Niçoise: Serves 2
- 1 tin solid tuna in oil
- 2 small heads baby gem lettuce
- 2 hard boiled eggs, cold
- 40g French beans, trimmed
- 2 tomatoes, skinned
- ¼ cucumber
- 1 large spring onion, finely chopped
- 50g black olives, pitted
- 1 tbsp. capers
- 4 anchovies, cut into slivers
For the dressing:
- 1 garlic clove
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
- Small handful of basil leaves, torn
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tbsp red wine vinegar
- Black pepper
- Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to the boil
- Place some ice and water in a bowl
- Blanche the trimmed green beans till just soft, about 3-4 minutes
- Once the beans are cooked, immediately place them into the iced water. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before drying the beans with a tea towel
- Meanwhile, make the dressing. Crush the garlic in a pestle and mortar, with a pinch of sea salt. Add the chopped anchovies (if using) and pound until everything is combined. Throw in the torn basil leaves and continue pounding until the leaves start to break down. Add the red wine vinegar and pour in the oil. Using a small whisk, combine until everything is emulsified. Season with black pepper. Add salt only if you didn’t use the anchovies
- Cut the skinned tomatoes into quarters, deseed and then cut the quarters in half
- Separate the leaves of the baby gem lettuce, wash throughly and then dry completely
- Cut the cucumber down the middle. Using a teaspoon, deseed the cucumber and then slice into half-moons
- Pour half the dressing into a mixing bowl. Add the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber. Using your hands, mix until everything is lightly coated in the dressing
- Divide the salad onto two plates. Top each with the green beans, anchovy slivers, chopped spring onions, pitted olives and capers
- Divide the tuna and eggs between the two plates
- Drizzle over the remaining dressing and perhaps add a final crack of black pepper