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How to Make the Perfect Salade Niçoise

Updated on May 18, 2017
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

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Nee-What?

Salade niçoise (pronounced ni-swaz) is a main dish salad that originated in Nice, France probably sometime in the late 19th century. That initial salad began as a plate of fresh tomatoes, anchovies, and olive oil—a simple meal for poor people.

In 1903, Henri Heyraud published a cookbook of French cuisine entitled “La Cuisine à Nice.” His version of the salad included the traditional tomatoes and anchovies, but added artichokes and black olives. A few years later, the famous chef Escoffier added potatoes and green beans. Former Nice mayor and cookbook author Jacques Médecin brilliantly suggested hard-cooked eggs. In my humble opinion, that is where the declaration of “what constitutes a perfect salade niçoise” should end. This is perfection.

Although no one questions the origin of the original recipe, the proper ingredients have certainly become controversial. And it seems that every person who claims to be a “chef” (yes, the quotes are appropriate in my humble opinion) has their own unique and clever spin. Among the more brow-raising concepts I found online are:

  • Pierre Franey added avocado, mushrooms, and green olives.
  • James Beard created a salad that included Uncle Ben’s converted rice.
  • Ina Garten and Rachel Ray added salmon.
  • Sara Moulton uses shrimp.
  • Nigella Lawson substituted croutons for potatoes.
  • Guy Fieri adds couscous.
  • Mark Bittman favors faro.
  • Sandra Lee used tuna steaks stuffed with olive tapenade.

Some of these might be worthy of consideration, but others are nearing sacrilege. Call me old-fashioned, but I simply don’t believe that “more is better.” The reason the classic is a classic is because it is based on simple, clean, pure ingredients; to get it right, you need to stay true to the salad’s place of birth.

The glorious photograph at the introduction to this article is by Sue, a blogger who "loves to create (and photograph) beautiful food." And she writes about her passion as well. But she devoted most of her attention to the oil-packed canned tuna and ignored the other components. Let's take a closer look at those ingredients and make a perfect salade niçoise.

5 stars from 1 rating of Perfect Salade Niçoise

Ingredients

  • salad greens (butter lettuce)
  • tomato, quartered Roma or whole grape tomatoes
  • anchovy (or capers for a vegetarian option), rinsed and patted dry
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, (plus 2 T shallot, 1/2 tsp. garlic, 2 tsp. Dijon, 3 T white wine vinegar, 1 T water)
  • artichoke hearts, quartered
  • black olives, pitted
  • Yukon gold potatoes, 1 per serving (see cooking directions below)
  • haricot vert, (see cooking directions below)
  • medium cooked eggs, 1 per serving (see cooking directions below)

Instructions

  1. Prepare ingredients.
  2. Mix ingredients or arrange attractively on plate as a "composed" salad
  3. Eat and enjoy!

A Closer Look at Each Component

Salad Greens

This is not the place for spinach, arugula, romaine, or any other bitter, assertive green that would overwhelm the salad. The greens are not meant to be the star of the show; they're playing a supporting role. So, chose a simple butter lettuce with a clean delicate flavor.

Tomatoes

The ideal tomato is either a small plum (Roma) quartered, or a scattering of brilliant red-orange grape tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are meaty and have a true "tomato" flavor. That said, it's also hard to not use grape tomatoes; they are supremely sweet, soft-skinned, and provide a sugary contrast to the vinegary dressing. Save your big slicing tomatoes for hamburgers—they are seedy and will make your salad a watery mess.

Anchovies

Source

The flavor of your salade niçoise should be reminiscent of the coast of France. It needs the briny taste of anchovies. Abraham Lincoln said that all men are created equal—anchovies are not. They vary greatly in the intensity of salt and "fishiness." The people at Serious Eats did the taste testing for us; their top 10 picks are here.

Capers

My daughter is vegetarian and so I strive, whenever possible, to find meat alternatives. I am not suggesting that capers taste just like anchovies, but they do provide a pop of salty/briny flavor in contrast to the sweet tomatoes and creamy egg yolks. Rinse your capers with cool water and then blot gently to dry.

Olive Oil

This is the easiest salad dressing you will ever make—and the tastiest. Simply place the ingredients in a small jar, screw the lid on tightly, and shake.

  • 3/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water

Artichoke Hearts

I have had relatively good luck with both frozen artichoke hearts and jarred (packed in oil or water). You won't be disappointed if you:

  • avoid marinated hearts. The vinegar taste overwhelms the delicate flavor you seek in an artichoke
  • purchase whole, not quartered
  • look for hearts that are small—the large ones tend to have tough outer leaves

Black Olives

The name says it all; the best (only) black olive to use is a niçoise. They are small but have the most amazing deep, earthy flavor. Please don't use the ordinary canned black olives that are popular in Tex-Mex foods or tossed into spaghetti sauce. There is no comparison.

Yukon Gold Potatoes

Yukon golds have yellow flesh and a sweet, buttery flavory. They are typically smaller than other potato varieties; for this dish I try to find potatoes no more than 2 inches in diameter.

HOW TO PREPARE

  • Put the potatoes in a medium pot and add water to cover the potatoes by 2 inches. Season the water with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced, 10 to 12 minutes.
  • The skin of Yukon golds is so thin and tender you need not remove it; however, if you wish to do so, it will slip off very easily once the potatoes are cooked.

Haricot Vert

Would a green bean by any other name taste as sweet?

Haricot vert (är-ē-kō-ˈver) is more than just a snobby way of saying "green bean." Haricots verts are longer and thinner than American green bean varieties. They are more tender (a brief touch of steam will render them perfect for your salad), but don't let their diminutive size fool you. They have a wonderful "green bean" flavor.

HOW TO PREPARE

  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Set up a bowl of ice water for shocking.
  • Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until tender but still have some bite, 5 to 7 minutes. Strain and immediately transfer the beans to the ice water. Once cool, strain and set aside until ready to use.

Medium-Cooked Eggs

In most foods you want to use the absolutely freshest product you can find. However, there is one exception--very fresh eggs are almost impossible to peel. So use the eggs you already have in your refrigerator and cook one whole egg for each serving of salad.

Your Thoughts?

Do You Like My Salade Niçoise?

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© 2017 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 8 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Audrey. We love doing salads--often I just prep the topping and set up a salad bar, letting everyone DIY. Easy peasy.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 8 days ago from Nashville Tn.

      I love salads and this one is a winner! The photos and information about the foods are an extra bonus. 5 stars !

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 9 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Lena - I agree with you (obviously, or I wouldn't have written what I did). The key is using the best quality ingredients.

    • Spanish Food profile image

      Lena Durante 9 days ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Getting creative with old recipes is fun, but I've always felt there's something to be said for sticking with the classics. A traditional recipe is traditional for a reason! It's tried and true, and never disappoints.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 10 days ago from Brazil

      Oh Linda,

      I meant the anchovies are all he would eat. LOL

      I, on the other hand, would eat it all.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 10 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Mary - I agree with you (and my husband also discards the anchovies). Why can't food be pretty inside and out? We eat with our eyes before we taste with our mouths.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 10 days ago from Brazil

      It is funny, I look at the salad and think it's heavenly and my husband would say, "yuck" all with visible cringing. It amazes me that they can be so wrong. LOL

      He would pick the anchovies off and that's about it. I think there is nothing better than a well thought out salad. It just shouts 'Mediterranean'.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 10 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Bill. Happy Mothers Day to Bev as well. I hope you have a wonderful day. See you at the mailbag tomorrow.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 10 days ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm sure it is appropriately delicious, but I'll never know from experience. LOL...one thing I do know is it's Mothers Day, so Happy Mothers Day, my friend.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 10 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Venkatachari - We often (especially in the hot summer) have salads as the meal, not just a side dish. You could, of course, omit the anchovy and egg and still have a very nourishing meal. Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and/or cannellini beans would be very tasty on this as well.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 10 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish - No worries. Capers (which I included as a vegetarian sub for the anchovies) are just what you need. I'm happy to know that you might give this a try.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 10 days ago from Hyderabad, India

      It looks great. I love salads as they are very healthy and rich in nutrients. Moreover, most of the ingredients are natural and raw making it richer in all aspects.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 10 days ago from USA

      I'm glad you told us how to pronounce this! I'm not an anchovy person but I could do a few tweaks here and there and be happy.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 10 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric - "Salad weather" has still not really arrived for us in the Pacific NW. Yesterday we had hail the size of green peas--and FAT green peas they were.

      The Salade Nicoise is a "composed" salad--that means that the greens are laid down in the bowl and then the other ingredients are carefully placed down. Look at the introductory photo and you'll see what I mean. That food stylist composed a large plate for a group of people.

      I prefer to make individual plates. A bit more work for sure, but I see it as an act of love. Preparing good-tasting food that also looks beautiful is a gift to those you are feeding.

      Like you, I love making salads that are a myriad of ingredients--contrasts in taste and texture and color.

    • Carb Diva profile image
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      Linda Lum 11 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill Holland (aka billybuc) - I don't expect you to love this. I don't even anticipate that you will like any part of it. But, just like your graphic novels (that you know I can't go to) sometimes the story just needs to be told

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 11 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      We had a killer salad tonight. So much fun to get like ten ingredients and put them together. This was awesome will visit my kitchen -- excuse me, our kitchen.

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