Blu Aubergine Blog

QUICK BITE: Salade Nicoise

It's the perfect encapsulation of the Cote d'Azur. It's sunshine and the south of France on a plate: The Salade Niçoise, or Niçoise Salad.

This is what is known as a salade composée (composed salad), in which the ingredients are not mixed, but rather plated in lines or groupings of ingredient, to be mixed at will by the person eating the dish. (The Cobb salad is another classic example of a composed salad). This is also great for those who want to serve the salad family-style, to a group. It is a meal in and of itself, with briny protein and fresh vegetables brought together by a high-quality olive oil of the variety commonly found in Provence.
There's discussion over exactly what the classic Salade Niçoise includes. The necessary ingredients? Tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies and/or tuna. Some say forego the haricot verts, the thin French string beans that should bend and snap in your mouth. Some claim the boiled potatoes -- or in fact, any cooked components -- do not belong in a true Niçoise. There are purists who believe that the salad can contain anchovies OR tuna, but never both. And most claim that the tuna cannot be fresh tuna steak, as has become popular in this time of sushi-grade yellowfin. Some people add red peppers, or artichokes, or radishes. I've seen asparagus, capers, green peas, hearts of palm, and spring onions.

Normally I'm a purist. And since Nice and the area was ruled by the Italians until relatively recently (probably why I love the food so much), I can filter much of what should go in the dish through an Italian culinary lens. Which means, despite protestations otherwise, I say include what's fresh and good, and what works! Genova is just a few miles across the azure waters of the Med from Nice, and they classically use potatoes and green beans in their most classic version of pasta con pesto alla genovese, so I say they make sense in the Niçoise as well. Even some basil works. Radishes, a very French ingredient, seem to work well and popped up in many versions I enjoyed in Nice. Same with artichokes. I much prefer a delicious, tiny cherry or grape tomato to slices of tasteless "salad" tomatoes, but that's just me.
I would even go so far as to say that if you have access to really beautiful fresh tuna steaks, by all means use them -- cooked properly, of course: seared on the outside, ruby-pink in the middle. Still, Italians are known for their excellent tuna, jarred and preserved in olive oil: miles away from Starkist canned nothingness in water, this. And without question, we know that the olives to use are the petite, sweet black olives known as, what else? Niçoise olives. As for dressing, some would claim to just use a couple of glugs of local olive oil. I prefer to make my dressing as French as can be, with some chopped shallots and a spoonful of dijon mustard to start with, some fleur de sel, and a bit of either red wine or champagne vinegar, or balsamic. Which brings us to the olive oil.

If you're lucky enough to actually prepare your Salade Niçoise in Nice, I highly recommend heading to the Alziari store on 14 Rue Saint-Francois de Paule (phone +33 4 93 62 94 03). You'd probably recognize the olive oil can before you'd recognize the name (Italian as it is): the un-mistakable blue checked round metal canister, pictured here. You could even pick up some great milled soaps made with olive oil, or try some of their infused oils. I like to stick to the classic canister, however. It brightens my kitchen and reminds me of the almost surreal blue of the waters of Nice, and looking out upon them as I ate my perfect Salade Niçoise...whatever version I was served on that particular, glorious day.