For a transporting main course, plattered elegantly or individually plated, Salade Niçoise (French pronunciation: NEE- swazz), originated in the Mediterranean seaside village of Nice, on the southeast coast of France. Its earliest version was noted as being “simple food for poor people”.
Traditionally it is consists of ripe tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, Niçoise olives, haricot vert (baby green beans), anchovies, best quality tinned tuna packed in olive oil, and modestly dressed with high quality olive oil. It has been popular worldwide since the early 20th century, and Gordon Ramsay has said "it must be the finest summer salad of all."
There are those who sternly believe that the original recipe should not be altered, declaring “Oh mon Dieu, Sacrilège!” to any variations, however, I opt for a more less stringent interpretations dependent of what is available in the market and personal tastes. I have a dear friend who loves Salade Niçoise, but cannot abide the anchovies… and I love them. For this reason, the best way is to present the salad on a large platter, and fill it abundantly with the components and allow one’s guest to construct their own. As with any fresh salad, one can replace any item with something more favorable to one’s palate, or omit it all together.
I have seen many interpretations that replaced the tinned tuna with fresh Ahi, or Wild Salmon Filets, but there is something satisfyingly simple in using a best available from a can.
I recommend Buon Italia Ventresca Di Tonno, Tuna Belly in Pure Olive Oil, Available from: Buon Italia, 75 Ninth Avenue, NYC, 10011 (212) 633-9090, www.buoniltalia.com.
Furthermore, I like to use fresh quail eggs in place of the commonplace hen’s. They are unusual and cute, and have distinct difference in taste. You can find them in most Asian markets and at many Whole Foods.
Salade Niçoise, Serves 4 - 6
For the Dressing
1 clove of garlic
Kosher salt to taste
⅓ cup olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 shallot minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Salad
1 lb. small new potatoes, boiled until tender
6 oz. yellow baby beets, boiled until tender, peeled
6 oz. red baby beets, boiled until tender, peeled
8 oz. haricot verts, blanched
12 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup black Niçoise olives
8 small radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
8 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed and drained
4 hard-boiled quail’s eggs, halved lengthwise
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
3 (4-oz.) cans high-quality oil-packed tuna, drained
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, to garnish
½ cup thinly sliced scallions, to garnish
How to Prepare
Make the dressing: Mince garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle heavily with salt; using a knife, scrape garlic and salt together to form a smooth paste. Transfer paste to a bowl and whisk in oil, lemon juice, mustard, shallot, and salt and pepper; set aside.
Make the salad: Arrange all ingredients in separate rows on a large serving platter; drizzle dressing over all ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with basil and scallions just before serving.
To serve: Accompany with a rustic loaf of good bread, to sop up the juices, and a crisp white wine.