Classic Salade Niçoise
There were various responses on my Strawberry ice cream recipe, requesting a retraction of the moniker ice “cream” since it didn’t have cream in it. And a respected food writer pointed out that pumpkin was obligatory in Soupe au Pistou. I, too, know that folks will sometimes call something hot ‘chocolate’ even though it was made with cocoa powder instead of chocolate. And have been served fried onion rings that were actually broken circles, not neat, closed rounds of onions. And don’t get me started on thinly sliced fruit being called carpaccio.
So I have seen the error of my ways, and you’ll be happy to know that I slavishly followed the recipe for classic Salade Niçoise, as espoused by Jacques Médecin in his book Cuisine Niçoise. (Not this one.) Which everyone in Provence agrees gets the last word on cuisine from their region.
For example, once can not put grilled or seared tuna on the salad and call it a salade Niçoise. Canned tuna or anchovies are acceptable, but not both. And he cautions “”…never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salade niçoise.”
Traditionally, nothing but the eggs should be cooked if it’s going in an authentic salade Niçoise. And in addition to the absence of potatoes (which might be okay if you don’t mind eating them raw?) or interdit steamed green beans, another item that is absent is vinegar; a good olive oil is used as the dressing with a few herbs mixed in. He does allow vinegar if you’re making a Pan Bagnat, a sandwich which is basically a Niçoise salad tucked inside a not-too-firm bun: olive oil and vinegar are sprinkled on to moisten the bun then rubbed with fresh garlic.
Yesterday I hopped on a bike and headed to the marche d’Aligre but I couldn’t find fresh fava beans and although one can use small artichokes, I couldn’t find those either. So I stepped into Picard, the frozen food store, and bought fava beans there, which I’m going to go out on a limb and say that since I don’t think they’re cooked before they’re frozen, they might be okay. I’m just going to assume that’s allowable. (Plus Picard wasn’t around when he wrote his treatise on Provencal cooking in 1972.)
But I did buy the unpeeled fava beans, instead of the ones already peeled and ready-to-go, which I shucked with my little hands. So I did my penance. Plus I sprung for beautiful organic garlic, whose price didn’t faze me that much, but it was probably The Most Expensive Dirt in France attached. I am certain that those peeled soybeans that became popular after 1972, now sold frozen in stores and served at sushi bars, would be a good substitute if you find yourself in a similar bind.
I dislike bell peppers, but usually one finds them in a Niçoise salad, so you can add them if you wish. Of course, it’s a salad so it’s open to lots of modifications, but salting the tomatoes is traditional. Draining them ensures the salad won’t be watery; ditto on scraping out the cucumber seeds and pulp. You can adapt the recipe to what’s available where you live, and the time of the year, but it is traditional not to have any cooked vegetables. Just a reminder.
Because olive oil is so revered in Provence, it’s frequently drizzled over salads in place of a dressing, which just get a bit of salt and black pepper added at the last minute. You can do that, or make a vinaigrette if you’d like a livelier dressing, with a bit of a bite from mustard and vinegar.
It drives me nuts when people say they don’t like anchovies. (Like it probably drives people who like bell peppers nuts when I say I don’t like those.) Indeed, the ones in the tins are dreadful little devils. But when you get good ones packed in salt or oil, they’re tasty fellows and I keep a jar in the refrigerator to chop and add to pasta sauces, and like to have them handy since they’re good draped over little oiled toasts rubbed with garlic to serve as a quick appetizer.
The French anchovies from Collioure are magnificent and although you can’t get them easily in the states, salted anchovies are available, as well as good oil-packed ones as well. (Zingerman’s and Corti Brothers are good sources in the states.) If you’re still not convinced, you can use a good brand of canned tuna, looking for one made with tuna fished in a sustainable manner, such as canned albacore.
According to the expert, both are never used at the same time on this salad, however he does concede that some cooks in Nice skirt the rules and will occasionally use both.
Classic Salade Niçoise
Makes 2 salads
Unpitted olives are fine if making a salade composée (composed salad), but for ease of eating, you may want to pit them first if making a tossed salad such as this. If you use unpitted olives, especially tiny Niçoise olives, advise guests to watch out for pits.
Although Monsieur Médecin warns away from using any sort of French dressing, you can use a vinaigrette instead. In place of the lettuce, you can use arugula, or mesclun, a mixed of greens, which I’ve seen served in Nice in many restaurants.
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
- 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
- 2 spring onions, or 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup (90g) peeled fava beans
- 1/3 cup (55g) small black olives, preferably Niçoise olives, pitted or unpitted
- 1/2 head of lettuce, torn or shredded
- 3 hard-cooked eggs (see below)
- 6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil or French vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3-4 anchovy filets, cut into thin strips lengthwise, or a 6 ounces (180g) tin of tuna
1. Rub the clove of garlic all over the insides of a wooden salad bowl.
2. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and put them in a colander. Sprinkle them with salt, and let them drain for a few minutes while you finish the salad.
3. Add the cucumber, onions, fava beans, olives, and lettuce to the bowl.
4. Peel and cut the eggs into wedges.
5. Mix the olive oil with the herbs and a bit of salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes to the bowl and toss most of the dressing with the salad, reserving a bit to drizzle over the eggs. (If using tuna, toss that with the salad as well.) Season with additional salt, if necessary.
6. Place the eggs on top of the salad and drape the anchovy strips over the eggs. Pour the remaining dressing over the eggs.
To make hard-cooked eggs: Begin with room temperature large eggs. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and gently lower the eggs in. Let cook for 9 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and plunk them into a bowl of ice water, cracking the shells a bit after a few minutes, which aids in peeling.
Related Recipes and Links
How to Pick, Clean and Prepare Fava Beans (The Kitchn)
Niçoise Salad (Simply Recipes)
Salade Niçoise (Nicerendezvous, in French)
French Purists Rise Up in Defense of Niçoise Salad (Times of Malta)