It is already summer salad days here in Chiang Mai. Temperatures topping out at 40c/103F is reason enough to turn to an old favorite Salad Nicoise (salad from Nice) for a refreshing hot weather meal that is cool, crisp, and infinity satisfying for a leisurely lunch or summer supper.
I recently ordered a Salad Nicoise with seared tuna at one of Chiang Mai’s purportedly “go to” restaurants. Sadly, it turned out to be a lackluster rendition of a brilliant French classic. There are times when tradition reigns supreme. A classic Salad Nicoise is perfection just as it is.
I referenced several classic recipes, including Julia Child’s, to be sure my recollections where on the mark. The recipe that follows is a typical Salad Nicoise you would encounter in Nice as well as all over France. Farm fresh produce with just enough French ingenuity to dress it with a splash of fresh herbs, citrus, olives from Provence, and tuna from the sunny Mediterranean.
Salade Nicoise: serves 4
- 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
- 1 or 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 1/3 teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 6 to 7 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh Tarragon (or ½ teaspoon dried)
Combine the shallots, anchovy filets (if using), and salt in a small nonreactive bowl. Mash together with the back of a wooden spoon to form a paste.
Add the white wine, chicken stock, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard powder and whisk until combined.
While whisking vigorously, begin adding the olive oil in a thin trickle until the mixture emulsifies. This will take a couple on minutes, but just keep whisking until the vinaigrette is slightly thickened and glossy.
Add the ground pepper and tarragon and whisk until mixed. Taste and add additional sea salt as needed. Transfer to pitcher, cover, and refrigerate while you compose the salad.
- mixed fresh salad greens; such as leafy lettuces, coss, romaine, radicchio, rocket, fresh sweet basil leaves (optional)
- 2 to 3 golden potatoes (depending on size), boiled and thinly sliced
- 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
- 2 hands full of haricot vert (or snap peas), blanched or steamed
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes cut into wedges (or 1 cup vine ripe cherry tomatoes)
- ½ cup Mediterranean pitted black olives
- 1 to 1 ½ cups chunk canned tuna packed in water
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- Nicoise vinaigrette
- fresh lemon wedges (optional)
- flaked sea salt and fresh ground pepper on the table
Make a selection for the salad mix, wash, spin dry, place in a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Reserve the fresh basil leaves (if using) to add just before you toss the salad.
Boil the potatoes in salted water with skin on just until tender. Cool and slice into thin rounds using a very sharp knife dipped in water before each slice. Place a single layer of slices in a shallow bowl and drizzle with the Nicoise vinaigrette. Repeat with each layer of potatoes, cover, and refrigerate. This flavors the potatoes nicely for the salad.
Boil the eggs in salted water for 15 minutes. Cool in iced water, peel, and cut into thin rounds.
Blanch or steam the haricot vert (or snap peas) al dente. Transfer to ice water to cool, drain, pat dry, cover, and refrigerate.
Assembling the salad:
Toss the leafy salad mix, including the basil leaves (if using) with a spare amount of the Nicoise vinaigrette. Place the tossed salad greens onto four individual serving plates. Nest 6 potato slices spaced around each salad. Arrange hard boiled egg slices between the potato slices. Nestle the haricot vert (or snap peas) around the salad. Place tomato wedges (or cherry tomatoes) here and there. Dot with pitted olives over all. Add the chunk tuna in the center on top of the greens. Scatter the capers over all and drizzle additional Nicoise vinaigrette over the entire salad. Add a lemon wedge (if using) to one side and serve.
Be sure to have flaked sea salt and a pepper mill on the table for final seasoning as desired.
Voila! A classic Salade Nicoise at its very best.