new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Some Thoughts on Salad Nicoise

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Some Thoughts on Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise is a truly classic French dish. It is also one of those Things I Never Think About Making. All that changed over the summer, when I somehow concluded that a nice salad nicoise was exactly what I needed to make. A quick consult of Julia Child and the Simply Recipes blog provided an almost-comically easy blueprint. The results? Delicious.

Like all regional specialities, the "right" way to do Salad Nicoise is fiercely debated in its native Nice, in France's Cote D'Azur. The original salad Nicoise, according to the Wikipedia oracle, included: "raw red peppers, shallots, and artichoke hearts, never potatoes." Salads on a platter like this one were apparently popularized in the 1880's, although some claim renowned choreographer George Balanchine played a key part in creating the salad we know and love today. Salad Nicoise really took off in the USA due to the titanic influence of one Julia Child. Here's a Salad Nicoise recipe from Nice (in French) if you're curious.

Here's a charming article on Salad Nicoise in its homeland from the Guardian.

Here's Nice. Would hate to have to go THERE.

The classic Salad Nicoise uses canned tuna - in oil, thank you, the watery stuff isn't really worth eating. I've prepared this with both some simple poached salmon and with grilled tuna. According to this amusing NY Post article, food critic Mimi Sheraton believes that fresh tuna is "a travesty". Eh, whatever, Mimi. Both versions are delicious in my book.

I ended up making Salad Nicoise quite a bit over the summer, as I became more and more enamored with the combination of savory capers, crunchy haricorts verts, and creamy potato. I suspect you'll fall in love too as soon as you make it. Salad Nicoise's other tremendous advantage? It can look incredibly pretty with almost no effort on your part. There is nothing not to love.

Nicoise Salad:

Vinaigrette: (I use Elise's over at Simply Recipes. This is definitely my new favorite salad dressing. It has some of the creaminess and savory flavor of a Caesar without the calories. Excellent).

1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp minced fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

You can either whisk this or blend it. Blending produces, in my opinion, a superior creamy texture.

Salad Faine-Style:
8 or 10 baby red potatoes.
1/2 lb haricots verts/baby green beans.
Eggs (I don't use eggs. You may if you don't consider hard boiled eggs an agent of Satan, like myself).
Butter lettuce and/or romaine.
A carton of good quality grape tomatoes. Use the fancy colored ones for extra visual appeal.
One red onion.
Nicoise olives.
Feta or goat cheese if desired.
Artichoke hearts.
Thyme to sprinkle on top.
Tinned anchovies (optional).

Boil the potatoes in some hot water, until creamy and delicious on the inside. Do the same for the green beans, and the eggs, if you are one of those people who actually uses them. Slice the grape tomatoes in half for maximal squidgy appeal and less chance of squirt-in-the-eye tragedy. Slice the red onion.

If using tuna, take it out of the package and brush with a little bit of olive oil. Sprinkle on a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Light a grill or heat up a grill pan. Grill according to doneness. You won't need more then a couple of minutes for a delightfully rare seared tuna steak. Slice and chill for a few minutes.

Arrange the whole shebang in an attractive manner in a big salad bowl. Approach the process as if constructing a color wheel. What ingredient looks purty next to another ingredient?

Put the tuna on top or serve on the side, according to your preference. Drizzle on the dressing and toss. Devour.

This is excellent with a dry white wine. Even better if eaten outside at the end of a really hot day. Those residents of Nice are onto something.


Gretchen said...

Next time you're in Sacramento, check out Magpie. They make one with salmon. D. li. cious!

Natalie said...

Damn, that looks delicious. I went to Nice, but didn't have this there (I did have the best pasta alla Carbonara ever, though).