If you ever need something that will take you on a trip to the sunny shores along the Mediterranean Sea, enjoying a Nicoise Salad will do just that. It is a salad full of vibrant foods found in the Mediterranean and in particular the French Rivera. Originating from Nice, France, you can expect a Nicoise Salad made with warm sun ripened vegetables, cured black olives, anchovies, garlic and a garden of herbs reflecting the region’s abundant summer bounty from both land and sea. This is an elegant salad with attitude. It speaks in a loud and briny voice, yet it is never offensive because it’s beauty transports our senses to a sunset along the Côte d’Azur no matter how distant that may be.
Traditional Nicoise Salad
Nicoise Salad is one of my favorite salads. Even though I came to it from an adapted version, rather from an authentic source, I believe it is true in its concept. My research revealed what I knew as Nicoise Salad included several ingredients that are not necessarily “traditional”. Like most regional foods of classic cuisines there usually is a traditional version and the adapted versions built off the one traditional recipe. Yet, for Nicoise Salad, there is debate about what that one recipe consists of. Even in Nice, from restaurant to restaurant and house to house, you get a slightly different version all considered a classic. Despite the fact no one can agree on one “traditional recipe” there is consistent agreement about the essential ingredients that define a Nicoise Salad.
The definitive ingredients are: French green beans, also known as haricot verts, ripe tomatoes, black cured olives, preferably ones from the South of France, anchovies, garlic and fresh herbs, like Fines Herbs. Everything else like potatoes, lettuce, capers, tuna fish, marinated artichoke hearts, and hard-boiled eggs, are open for debate. Two of the add-ins, potatoes and marinated artichoke hearts, are highly debated as definitive ingredients, but lettuce, tuna fish and hard-boiled eggs are questionable, or optional as I like to put it.
My Nicoise Salad
Because my introduction to Nicoise Salad was in New York and not along the French Rivera, my idea for this classic salad includes many optional ingredients, especially tuna, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. However, it is just these ingredients that turned my mind around about liking anchovies. Therefore, I do not consider them blasphemous because they compliment an essential ingredient in a Nicoise Salad. It was so long ago when I was first introduced to anchovies I barely remember it, What I do know is if you do not like them, open your mind to try anchovies in a Nicoise Salad and then make up your mind. Paired with the other salad ingredients, the anchovies strong fishy and briny flavor turn complimentary and not overpowering.
Now I love anchovies, especially with lots of garlic, and add them to many recipes, like Baby Artichoke Hearts with Anchovy Caper Sauce. These artichoke hearts make up a Nicoise Salad in its own right, just add some tomatoes, haricot verts and olives and you are good to go.
Including tuna, potatoes, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs in one salad may seem over the top, but it is the salad I know and love. I could omit the tuna to feel more authentic, because tuna is the ingredient you rarely find in a Nicoise Salad in France, or so I’ve heard. Though I do believe tuna adds a nice flavor. Plus, if you use good quality prepared tuna from a jar or can, it makes a big difference.
The tuna I used is TonNino tuna (not an ad) in olive oil. It comes in a jar, is wild caught, dolphin friendly, Yellowfin Tuna. Plus, you can find it at most grocery stores. It had a mild tuna flavor that was very moist without a mineral-metallic aftertaste you get from canned tuna.
I have never made this salad with grilled or fresh tuna because there is enough preparation without it. Also, I believe fresh tuna will dominate the flavor and at $24 plus per pound, should be the featured ingredient. I am sure it tastes delicious, but call it by a different name, like Grilled Tuna Mediterranean Salad.
How to Compose a Nicoise Salad
Another Nicoise Salad debate is over how to assemble the salad. You’ll find in a lot of restaurants serve Nicoise Salad plated as a composed salad with each ingredient artfully placed on a platter with the dressing drizzled over the top. Another way to present the salad is to mix all the ingredients together, like salads usually are, with the salad dressing evenly coating all the fresh ingredients. Personally, I prefer the all mixed up style because I believe it tastes better that way. It is a perfect jumble of deliciousness compared to the composed salad.
As you can see in my photographs, I opted for the composed salad just because it photographs better. However, by dinner time I had everything all mixed up.
Making a Nicoise Salad becomes a personal choice of ingredients and appearance. The important consideration is always including ripe tomatoes, black cured olives, blanched green beans, anchovies, garlic, and a handful of fresh herbs. No exceptions. Everything else is up to you. Keep in mind Nicoise Salad is vibrant so don’t skimp on the garlic and anchovies. As you make this salad, think of hot summer days, dry heat, warm coastal breezes, salty air, and the best seasonal ingredients found around the Côte d’Azur . You will reward yourself with a trip to the French Rivera even when you are thousands of miles away.
Classic Nicoise Salad for Two
Take a bite, close your eyes then transport your senses to the Côte d’Azur on a hot summer day.
This recipe can easily be doubled and tripled in size to feed 4-8 people. You may need to adjust the dressing somewhat, but that is easily done.
Nicoise Salad is best eaten as soon as it is prepared. Arrange it decoratively in a bowl or platter or serve mixed together in a delicious jumble of fresh ingredients tossed with the vinaigrette. With all the ingredients at room temperature.
- 2 Yukon gold potatoes about 8 oz (247 g) total
- 1 small onion peeled and cut in half
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed and green germ removed
- 2-3 sprigs of thyme
- 2 eggs
- 4 oz (125 g) French Green Beans (Haricots Verts) ends trimmed
- ½ 4 oz ( 105 g) head of green leafy lettuce like Boston Bibb
- 1 6.7 oz (190 g) jar tuna in olive oil, such as TonNino
- ¼ lb. (115 g) grape tomatoes, cut in half use plum tomatoes when they are at the peak of the tomato season
- ¼ cup (75 ml) black cured olives
- 1 TB capers brined cured
- 4 anchovy fillets
- A handful of fresh herbs either Fines Herbs, tarragon, basil, chives, parsley
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 1 TB minced shallot a small shallot about 1 oz or .5 g
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 ½ TB red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup 75 ml) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- A couple grinds of fresh black pepper
Cook the ingredients:
Fill a sauce pan with water and add the potatoes. Add about 3 tablespoons of Kosher salt to the pot along with a couple of thyme springs, onion and garlic cloves. Bring the water to a boil turn down the heat and gently simmer the potatoes until they are fork tender, about 25 minutes. Depending on the temperature of your simmering water will depend on how long the potatoes need to cook. I check the potatoes every 10 minutes so I do not over cook them.
Once done, remove the potatoes from the sauce pan and set aside to cool.
While the potatoes are cooking, fill a bowl with ice and water and set aside.
If adding eggs to your Nicoise Salad, place the eggs in a sauce pan and fill the pan with water. Bring the pot to boil then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the eggs for 7- 8 minutes. Ideally you want medium-boiled eggs when the yolks are set but not cooked all the way through, but not runny.
Turn off the heat and add the eggs to the ice bath. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, gently roll the egg back and forth on the counter to crack the egg shell. Peel off the shell, with the egg submerged in the ice bath for an easy peel. Set the eggs aside. If you are making these in advance, store the peeled eggs in a bowl with filled with water in the refrigerator.
Make another ice bath for the green beans.
Fill the pot you used for the potatoes or eggs with fresh water and bring to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, add a large pinch of Kosher salt and the prepared green beans. Once the water returns to a boil, remove the green beans and add them to the ice bath. Once cool, remove the green beans from the ice bath and place on a clean lint free kitchen towel and dry. Set aside.
Make the Vinaigrette
If you haven’t already done so, mince the anchovy fillets, garlic and shallots then add to a small bowl.
Add the Dijon mustard and vinegar and whisk until well incorporated. Continue to whisk and add the extra virgin olive oil in a slow and steady stream. Stop pouring the olive oil periodically to whisk and the salad dressing and make sure the dressing is emulsified.
Assemble the Salad
In a large mixing bowl, add the lettuce leaves if using and pour about 2 teaspoons of vinaigrette over the leaves. Toss the leaves gently with your hands until the greens are evenly coated with the vinaigrette. Divide the lettuce between two large pasta bowls, or large salad plates. Or, arrange the lettuce on one platter large enough to hold the whole salad.
If you wish peel off the potato skins, or leave them on. Slice the potatoes into bite size pieces. Also, if you want the green beans into smaller pieces, cut them in half.
Arrange the green beans, chopped potatoes, chopped tomatoes, tuna fish, anchovy fillets, olives and capers over the lettuce. Drizzle the salad with the vinaigrette, making sure every add-in gets a coating of the salad dressing, especially the potatoes. Cut the eggs into quarter wedges or in half and arrange them on the salad.
Serve immediately at room temperature.
If you choose not to add in lettuce, double the amount of fresh green beans to make up for the loss of a green vegetable. You may also want more tomatoes. Also, cut up the green bean into bite size pieces for ease and convenience.
When tomatoes are in season and perfectly sweet and ripe, substitute the cherry tomatoes with plum tomatoes or other sweet flavored tomatoes. Cut them up into generous bite size pieces.
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