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How to Make the Perfect Salade Niçoise

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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.

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!

Salad Greens

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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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Yukon golds have yellow flesh and a sweet, buttery flavor. 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

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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

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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.

I have one more tip to add to the above video on how to boil eggs. Before placing those eggs in the pan, use a pin to pierce the broad end of each egg. Trust me, if you hold the egg in your other hand you can push the pin into the egg shell and it will not break. Also, the liquid egg will not leak out of the hole. It's just a pin prick. But, when the eggs are ready to be peeled you will find that the shell slips off perfectly.

Your Thoughts?

© 2017 Linda Lum

Comments

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 25, 2018:

Well that certainly answers that. 4 days. And the new knives you can cut it with not like our old school oxidized. A fun morning about salads. My favorite food - well one at least.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 25, 2018:

Eric, you found "a" salad article, but not the one I was referencing. Look for "The Perfect Green Salad."

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 25, 2018:

Thanks for the referral back here. Let us see, hmm Thursday for sure. We will do this together - how fun. I will pair it with some mommade Pho'. Are your kidding? Black Olives, Artichoke hearts and Anchovies? Gone to heaven.

But I am still unclear on the best storage for lettuce.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 08, 2017:

Thank you Ann. I agree--stick with the classics. This was a fun article to put together.

Ann Carr from SW England on October 08, 2017:

Strangely, although I go to France often, I've never had Salad Niçoise. It looks and sounds absolutely delicious.

I totally agree with you about keeping the original simple recipes; the French know well what works and their cuisine is one of, if not the, best in the world.

I'm looking forward to trying this. Love your presentation, Linda, and great photos.

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2017:

Good morning Shauna - I know that cold potatoes (without the mayo) might sound a bit odd, but I love it. Perhaps it's because it reminds me of Paris which is where I first tasted this dish.

Of course croutons are wonderful. Save your stale bread and make your own; simply tear (or cut in cubes if you don't like the rustic look) and spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes (depending on how small your pieces are).

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 16, 2017:

Looks good, Diva. I think I'd eliminate the potatoes. I like the croutons idea as a substitution and the added crunch they'd offer.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 16, 2017:

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

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on May 16, 2017:

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

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 15, 2017:

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

Lena Durante from San Francisco Bay Area on May 15, 2017:

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.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on May 14, 2017:

Oh Linda,

I meant the anchovies are all he would eat. LOL

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

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 14, 2017:

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.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on May 14, 2017:

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'.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 14, 2017:

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

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 14, 2017:

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.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 14, 2017:

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.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 14, 2017:

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 from Hyderabad, India on May 14, 2017:

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 from USA on May 13, 2017:

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.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 13, 2017:

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.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 13, 2017:

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

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 13, 2017:

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.