Summer Salad Series: Salad niçoise
There are so many variations of this salad that I don't feel bad adding another one. Some people use oil packed can tuna and some use fresh tuna, which gives two different styles, but generally most versions call for green beans, black olives—of course purists say from Nice--small potatoes, tomatoes, capers and anchovies. Salad greens can be optional, but I prefer to include them to balance this salad that can serve as the main dish.
For my part, I prefer using fresh tuna, as most modern versions agree, and having both hot and cold ingredients on the same plate offers a more interesting meal experience. I tend to arrange ingredients separately, tossing salad with dressing and drizzling some on the other ingredients after platting and topping the hot, seared tuna with anchovies.
Niçoise is a great main course salad in the tradition of salades composées. When teaching fundamentals of cooking, I often use Salade Niçoise for finals since it incorporates the basic techniques of cooking. It also requires strong organizational skills due to the many ingredients used in the salad as well as the use of one pot and the plating of everything in a nice fashion since each serving should be presented individually in the tradition of a salade composée.
The dressing is a classic Dijon mustard vinaigrette that incorporates olive oil and oil drained from the canned anchovy filet and should have enough acidity to hold to the meaty tuna.
In this recipe, which may look a bit fastidious at first, everything may be prepared in advance--except for the tuna that should be cooked last minute.
Tuna steaks: 24-30 oz Fresh Tuna, count 4 to 5 oz per serving. Portion in 4-5 oz pieces, or cube in ¾ inch if preferred.
Red bell pepper: 1 cut in thin strips
Garlic: 2-3 cloves about 1 tablespoon, crushed
Olive oil: 1 tablespoon, enough for sautéing
Green beens (Harricots Verts) : about 12 oz hard stem parts removed
Small potatoes, round/ fingerling: about 12 to 16 oz, count two potatoes per plate (wash, scrub, halve in diagonal. You will want to boil and cool them)
Eggs: 6, 1 per guest.
Tomatoes: either 6 medium vine grown tomatoes (about 1 pound), segmented in wedges, or 10 oz grape tomatoes cut in half
Salad greens: Boston, bib, mesclun, or romaine leaves cut in1 ½ inch (as available in season about 8 oz)
Anchovy filets in olive oil: 3 filets per plate, 5 oz total, drain oil and reserve for dressing.
Niçoise or Kalamata olive: pitted preferred, about 2 oz enough for 5 olives per plate.
Basil: ½ cup chopped
Parsley: flat Italian preferred about ¼ cup
Place potatoes in a pot with cold water bring to boil and cook them untill fork tender (should take 10 to 15 minutes).
Remove potatoes and set aside to cool.
Immerse green beans in the same pot, cook green beans till al dente (edible and still firm). Remove them and shock them in ice cold water.
Boil eggs for about 5-6 minutes, rinse them in cold water and let them cool. When cool enough to handle, remove shell under running water.
Make an emulsion by combining the following:
Mustard dijon type: 1 tablespoon
Red wine vinegar: 2 teaspoons
Lemon juice: 1 teaspoon
Olive oil and oil drained from can of anchovy fillets: ½ cup
Toss salads greens with a bit of olive oil and basil. If using grape tomatoes, mix them in and dress with enough vinaigrette. Distribute on a section of the plate.
If using a whole vine-ripe tomato, plate the salad greens in one section and top with the tomato wedges.
Toss potatoes in a little quantity of dressing and sprinkle them with parsley. Adjust salt and pepper.
Arrange in one section of the plate.
Toss green beans in a very small quantity of olive oil--a few drops--and arrange them in little packages in a section the plate. Adjust salt and pepper.
Cut boiled and shelled eggs in half and arrange them on plate next to green beans and sprinkle with salt to taste.
In a hot skillet with a minimum amount of oil, sauté sliced red bell pepper for a minute and add garlic. Put tuna in skillet and sear for a minute, reduce heat and toss tuna on opposite side and cook (make sure the center remains red). This should take about 2 or 3 minutes depending on thickness and texture.
Distribute each tuna with garlic bell pepper portion on the plates and crisscross with anchovy fillet.
Sprinkle some parsley over each plate and garnish with olives. Drizzle a bit of left over dressing as needed.
Jean-Mark Sens grew up in France and Belgium and has been living in the Southern United States of America for the past 25 years, except for a short stint in the deep East of Maine, which brought him back to New Orleans. He has taught culinary arts at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, Eastern Maine Community College and more recently for Mississippi University for Women on the Gulf Coast, and also works with the Goldring Centre for Culinary Medicine in New Orleans. He has published a collection of poetry, Appetite, with Red Hen Press. The present recipes are part of Leafy Greens and Sundry Things, a book on the arts and technique of composing salads in need of a publisher.