Top chefs everywhere argue what constitutes an “official Nicoise” salad. Lyonnaise Chefs insist it is only fresh ingredients with no fish or vegetables. Chefs from other French regions, as well as Western afficionado’s, beg to differ, saying that potatoes and haricots verts (green beans) are integral to the original recipe. Others say there must be tuna (preferably cooked but canned in oil can be used as a replacement without bastardizing authenticity). And hard boiled eggs are a must… to most.
Personally, I like the potatoes, could lose the green beans, and not as much tuna as suggested in most recipes. And the herbs are fresh, not dried; mine come right from the back yard. Here’s the version I had at Cafe Boloud, a fine French restaurant in Toronto, and repeated the next day at home (serves 4-6):
INGREDIENTS for VINAIGRETTE
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp finely chopped shallot
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tspn Dijon mustard (old style)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
INGREDIENTS for SALAD
2 grilled tuna steaks (8oz each), or 1 can tuna (most recipes call for 2-3)
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise (most recipes call for 6. In a pinch, I’ll use pickled eggs)
1/2 lbs small young red potatoes or fingerling potatoes (most recipes call for 1 and 1/4 lbs but I find the extra starch spoils the melding flavours)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads Boston lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (I grow Arugula in my garden and sometimes substitute for a more peppery flavour)
3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges (I grow grape and heirloom sweet tomatoes and sometimes use several of these orange and red tomatoes for a bigger “burst” of flavour)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (most recipes call for 1/2 lb but I find that too much, often eliminating them altogether)
1/4 cup nicoise olives (or Kalamata)
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
2 anchovies chopped finely (optional. I love anchovies)
Marinate tuna steaks in a little olive oil for an hour. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat, or place on a hot grill. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until cooked through.
In a jar or bag, place the oil, vinegar, shallots, herbs, and mustard together. Cover and shake until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place onion slices in a small bowl and sprinkle with 3 tbsn of vinaigrette. (the onions soaking in the vinaigrette will help take some of the bite out of them. )
Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Add 1 tbsn of salt. Heat to boil. Lower and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain. While still warm, cut them into quarters. Place them in a bowl and dress them with about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette.
While the potatoes are cooking, fill a medium sized pot halfway with water, and add w teaspoons of salt. Bring to boil and add green beans. Cook until tender but still firm to the bite (about 3-5 minutes). Drain and either rinse with cold water to stop the cooking or shock for half a minute in ice water.
Arrange the lettuce on a serving platter. Cut tuna into 1/2 thick slices and mound in center of bed of lettuce (or spread canned tuna). Sprinkle the tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, and anchovies around the tuna. Arrange the potatoes and green beans around the outside edge. Place egg wedges on one side of the serving dish, face up.
Pour the vinaigrette over dish just before serving. Garnish with fresh basil.
This and other recipes occasionally pop up in the Artichoke Hart series (available here), or the London Cartwright series (available here). Both chefs are fictional… the dishes are not.