Having ordered six salade niçoise in the nine days I was in Paris left me unimpressed. I know, I know…first world problems. Perhaps it was the areas we were eating in or the Euro I was unwilling to spend (classic American cheapskate, huh?) for a salad but I had all these hopes and fantasies with this salad especially in a city that oozes flavor. I didn’t feel I needed to spend 15 Euro for one.
I grew comfortable with my disappointment until I reached Hôtel Crillon le Brave. It was there that all my hopes and dreams materialized.
They served an incredibly fresh “Salade Niçoise” paired with a beautifully complex apricot-esk white wine from Domaine Du Tix.
Rural France is well known for sourcing nearly everything locally which definitely added to my food boner.
Perhaps it was the “gulp…gulp…err…mmm…gulp” local wine or simply the fact that I was with my lovely wifey that really made it memorable. Who knows, but I do know a Niçoise salad when I see it and ooo weee I saw it!
This experience immediately taught me what’s right and what’s really right. It’s kinda like if you come to America and order a burger. Most are forgettable, but every so often you are treated with the right combination of fresh fat to lean ratio with seasoning that’s on point.
Okay…so how do you achieve the right salad? Simple! Use fresh, seasonal ingredients and put a little work into the presentation.
For my Niçoise salad I either buy some fresh tuna or some Spanish “conservas”. I really enjoy all the flavor that comes from a sardine or tinned fish. Premium conservas are on a comeback. Goodbye “Starkist®” tuna.
I make my own Dijon mustard vinaigrette based on Julia Child’s recipe. I make mine with a little more mustard and add an anchovy to it instead of adding it to the salad. The salad itself always includes egg, beans, potatoes, olives, tomatoes and a proper lettuce. I enjoy using local, seasonal ingredients which is why I make one of these salads each week during the summer. It’s a salad that has real substance and carefully balances the proteins and carbs in the most perfect way.
Oh and…carrots, radishes, cucumbers and whatever else you want to decorate this classic seems to stop being authentic for me. Does it matter? To me yes, to many probably not. Onward…
I feel these ingredients are the cornerstones to a great Niçoise (in the style of Nice, France) salad recipe and without further ado, here it is folks.
- Fresh Bonito tuna or sardines (i.e. conservas)
- Homemade Dijon mustard vinaigrette
- Fresh olives lightly brined
- A medley of colorful baby potatoes
- Yellow wax beans or some “Vericots”
- Orange sweet peppers
- Butter Leaf lettuce with some baby Sorrel leaves and Red Tango
- Heirloom tomatoes
- Small eggs (ideally quail)
- Sometimes I throw a little edible flower on top with some frisse
It’s all about timing and efficiency in the kitchen. I am always reminded of this when wifey starts to cook and ends up burning almost everything. I enjoy that since it gives me a great point of view 😉
Make a little mini salad for yourself. Mix everything together. Stick it in your mouth. Swallow. Was it great? Yes? Then move on and start plating for the rest of your patrons.
Ok, that’s the recipe workflow but now I present thee with the actual how-to.
Niçoise Salad Dressing
Mix all the ingredients with a whisk. Beat it. Beat it good. Put it in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors marry a bit. This should make enough dressing for 3-4 people. Meanwhile back at the prep station you are rocking the salad ingredients.
Grab some water and boil the eggs. I do the 8 minute method for the regular eggs and 6 for the quail. You can simply put these on a timer. Pull them from the water. Add a pinch of salt to the water and a dash of vinegar. Now add the potatoes. This saves time and water. Hey, you are being environmental here. Thumbs up for you my friend.
Once you can stick a toothpick in the potato and it comes out relatively easily pull the potatoes. Now blanch the beans in the same water. After about 30 seconds, pull them and cool. Hey, you just did a double-dip environmental rock-a-billy-what-not. Holler!
Now bring your tuna from the fridge (or the conservas from their tins). They should be cut into steaks. Season with a little sea salt and black pepper. Sear it in some olive oil. About 30 seconds on each side. You want the raw ruby red bringing the eyebrows up on your patrons if you are dealing with fresh tuna.
There you have it. All your ingredients are right there in front of you. Your canvas is blank. Time to start plating. I’d love to see your creations on Instagram. #thinkeatdrink. Meanwhile I’ll be eating.
A Proper Niçoise Salad
Niçoise Salad Dressing:
- 1 clove garlic pressed/mashed
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbl. sherry vinegar
- 1 anchovy
- 1 tbl. proper smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 pink shallot minced
- A pinch of Kosher salt
- Freshly ground Tellicherry black peppercorns to taste
- 2 extra-small eggs or 4 quail eggs
- 10 thin french green beans or 10 yellow waxy ones
- A head of butter leaf lettuce
- 6-8 cherry tomatoes or one big heirloom tomato
- A bit of frisse
- Maybe an edible flower or two
- Red sorrel leaves or Red Tango
- 6-8 baby potatoes color medley; purple, pink, tan
- A big handful of Castelvetrano brine-cured olives. WholeFoods has them
- Freshly ground Tellicherry black peppercorns, to taste
- Mix everything with a whisk. Beat it. Beat it good.
- Put it in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors marry a bit. This should make enough dressing for 3-4 people.
- Meanwhile back at the prep station you are rocking the salad ingredients.
- Boil the eggs
- Prepare all the veggies
- Blanch what you need to blanch in the egg water
- Season and sear the tuna or break open those delicious conservas.