From Too Many Chefs -

July 11, 2006
Salade Niçoise: the non-tacky-touristy-version

nicoise.jpgFrom its birthplace in the south of France to the cosmopolitan center of France, the salade niçoise can be found in just about every cheap café in the nation. The Critic loves to order it, because he knows what to expect and it mainly includes things he likes: tomatoes, potatoes, tuna, anchovies, green beans and, occasionally, overcooked rice. I'm not a huge fan for a variety of reasons: overcooked rice, canned tuna, the frequent absence of anchovies, the fact that it's on the menu in every season and every clime. Bleh. It's not that I don't like the idea; I am just so frequently disappointed in the execution. (As with many things: don't ask me about Caesar's salad in the UK unless you are ready for an hour long rant...)

What I do like about the salad, when it's properly done, is the healthiness of the ingredients that still manage to make you feel like you've had a proper meal. I also like the fact that it's not too heavy on your stomach when the weather is hot and your appetite low. And I really like sharp mustardy vinaigrette.

So I thought of this salad on my recent experiments with broad beans. I found that broad beans had a lot of the same flavour as green beans, but with a meatier texture. And they are still in season. So I picked up a couple of tuna steaks from the market and a kilo of broad beans and a few new beets because they are so pretty and taste so rich and buttery. I already had lettuce and cucumbers in the refrigerator and the only ingredient I forgot - and didn't miss, let me hasten to add - was gently steamed new potatoes. The hard-boiled eggs that traditionally adorn a salade niçoise were left of intentionally as I'm not all that keen and the Critic actively dislikes them. The rice was left out because I think it's a disgusting trick that restaurant owners use to cheaply add bulk to the salad.

And please spare me the comment from An Expert On French Food, telling me that this isn't the "real" salade niçoise. Yes, I know that. This is my take on the dish and you can love it or leave it. I love it. Olives are also traditional in a Salade Niçoise and if I had any on hand I would have included them.

Meg's Salade Niçoise

Interestingly enough, the Larousse Gastronomique does not have any reference to salade niçoise; I suppose it's a sign of its bourgeois appeal. And also interesting - to me - is the fact that Schott's Food Miscellany (a book I highly recommend if you love food and love trivia), lists broad beans as an element in the salad and green beans as a possible substitute. I have never seen broad beans served in a salade niçoise and thought I was being relatively original.

1 kilo broad beans (weight before shelling)
3-4 young beets
6-8 small new potatoes (optional)
2-3 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1/4 a cucumber, thinly sliced
2 large handfuls of lettuce, preferably something soft and tasty or a mixture
2 tuna steaks
7 anchovies
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp mustard
salt, pepper

Top and tail the beets, wash them and put them in a pot of boiling water. If you are including potatoes, wash them and set them to steam. Shell the beans and put them in a pot of boiling salted water. The beets will probably be done by the time you get the beans cooking. If so, drain them and pour cool water over them. Peel the skin off and reserve once they are cool enough to handle. Check the potatoes and remove them as well, if done. Cut them in large chunks (if necessary) and reserve. Once the beans have boiled for six or seven minutes, check whether they are tender. When they are, drain and then plunge them in cold water to cool down. You have a choice at this point: if your beans are young and tender or if you like chewy beans, you can leave them as they are. If not, peel them and toss them with a tablespoon of the olive oil and one of the anchovies, chopped.

Take another tablespoon of the oil to brush the tuna steaks. Cook them on a hot grill until they are as done as you like; be aware they cook very quickly.

Start the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar and mustard well. Then gradually add the remaining olive oil, making a smooth emulsion. Salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad by arranging the lettuce on two plates and then the beets, beans, tomatoes, onion and sliced cucumber. Lay the tuna steaks in the center and drizzle half of the vinaigrette on each of the salads. Garnish with the remaining anchovies.

It's a bit of a time-consuming salad, it's true, but it really is worth it. The bold flavours work well together, salty and yet healthy, low calorie and yet filling. A perfect summer dinner.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at July 11, 2006 8:49 AM

I'm sure this post will stir up controversy about the "right" way to do a tuna nicoise salad.

I like the tuna steaks idea and the use of fava beans, though I admit that I usually look forward to the skinny blanched haricot vert.

Only one question - no hard boiled egg or black olive?

Posted by barrett on July 11, 2006 at 5:10 PM

OK, let me be the first to point out you mentioned why the egg was left out.

In the wods of Rosanne Rosanna Danna - "Never mind."

Posted by barrett on July 11, 2006 at 5:15 PM

My 1983 Larousse does in fact have salade ni├žoise. Potatoes and green beans with vinaigrette, then add olives, anchovies, capers and tomatoes. No rice, you'll be glad to hear. But no tuna either, which is fair enough because from memory Waverley Root didn't put tuna in his either. Whatever. Salads are what you make of them, and I for one am not going to turn up my nose at a good one, whatever it's called.

Posted by Trevor on July 11, 2006 at 5:51 PM

Rice would indeed be a disgusting trick in a salade nicoise.

This looks fantastic, we ate these so much last summer we kind of overdid it and haven't wanted one since, but two discoveries we made that i'll pass on:

1) a tbsp or two finely minced basil strewn carelessly about is a lovely and unexpected note of freshness that plays perfectly against the tuna and anchovies.

2) GOOD canned tuna packed in olive oil can be a revelation in this salad. i just indulged in a tuna tasting on me blog and man what a difference there is in a good tinned tuna.

Posted by MEM on July 11, 2006 at 6:03 PM

Hmmm, anchovies on salad is such a French thing. And I love it! Why should we torture ourselves eating salad when salad can encompass such an exciting range of flavors? The worst sin is a dull salad. Salads are capable of packing a punch if only people didn't feel the need to punish themselves with it. For me, salad is pure enjoyment if you treat it that way! Okay, enough philosophizing....your salad is inspirational.

Posted by Justin Lo on July 12, 2006 at 4:11 AM

Try this recipe taught to me by a vicious old French chef; 1 buffalo tomato sliced perpendicular to the core and fanned out in a circle to cover the plate;put a piece of anchovy and fresh basil on each tom slice, then spread/sprinkle a small tin of tuna in pieces over all, same again with a handfull of chopped spring onions, then 1/2 doz black or purple pitted moist olives, finally a just set hard boiled egg is irregularly sliced to give colour and beauty. Then liberally apply a sharp dressing; sea salt ground with garlic clove to which Dijon is added until creamy then red wine vinegar and finally a good olive oil. Extras can be artichokes, capers and french beans but avoid spuds, peppers and beans. The salad is arranged not tossed. it's good, the flavour hit is between the tom and tuna and the garlic, anchovy and olive.

Posted by simon on January 24, 2007 at 11:50 AM

Simon that sounds lovely, especially at the moment on a cold January day. My mouth is watering at the thought of a juicy ripe tomato big enough to fan a plate...!

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 24, 2007 at 1:02 PM