A ‘proper’ Salade Niçoise

This is a guest post from Louise Hazan, and first appeared on her blog.

I’m not exactly renowned for my ‘traditional’ approach to many things.  If given half a chance, whether in cookery, campaigning or in the way I choose to live my life, I will deviate as far from the well-trodden path as possible; break the rules; cut the corners, stuff the recipe.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my approach to classic french food. It’s got to be done the right way and god forbid anyone (especially the British) should try to mess with it.  My long suffering partner will eagerly attest to this.  Woe to anyone who dares put honey in my vinaigrette or serve up Moules Marinière with cream in the sauce.  It may never be spoken aloud, but in my mind at least they will forever be tainted by their culinary faux-pas.  I am, in short, a French food snob. I can’t help it, I grew up in France.

So I thought I’d share with you one of the simplest and most delicious French dishes I remember from my childhood – the now ubiquitous Salade Niçoise.  It may be available on every menu from Bognor Regis to Berlin, but I’ve seldom had one in the UK that gets the simple combination of ingredients right or that sings with the Provençou flavours it’s supposed to.

For clarity’s sake, the following do not belong in a Salade Niçoise, ever, ever: chicken, croutons, parmesan, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, apples, boiled potatoes. Just. Plain. Wrong.

If you were going to be a purist about it you would follow the strictest of rules for making ‘Une Vrai Salade Niçoise’ as laid out by Jacques Medecin – the authority on Niçoise cooking.  He warns “whatever you do, if you want to be a worthy exponent of Niçoise cookery, never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salad niçoise.”   Other strict no-nos include never using both tuna and anchovies (one or the other is more authentic), and no vinaigrette (a traditional niçoise is served only with good olive oil and the garlicky juice of salted tomatoes).

There is scope for a variety of combinations of the key ingredients however. The crucial thing is to try to pack as much Provençou flavour into it as possible, and that means tomatoes, olives and garlic.  So, with Monsieu Medecin’s wise words ringing in my ears, here is my version of a proper Salade Niçoise.

There is scope for a variety of combinations of the key ingredients however. The crucial thing is to try to pack as much Provençou flavour into it as possible, and that means tomatoes, olives and garlic.  So, with Monsieu Medecin’s wise words ringing in my ears, here is my version of a proper Salade Niçoise.

Salade Niçoise

Serves 4

Ingredients:

a head of lettuce, torn or shredded

3 or 4 medium tomatoes, sliced

a clove of garlic

freshly pitted black olives of your choice

a small cucumber, peeled and sliced

half a small red onion, very thinly sliced

4 medium-boiled eggs, free-range organic please.

6-8 anchovies (from a tin or jar) or 1 can of tuna

extra virgin olive oil

salt

pepper

fresh basil leaves

fresh chopped parsley

(optional: dash of red white or balsamic vinegar)

Method

1.  Start by hard-boiling your eggs for around 8 minutes.  About a minute or two before they’re done, plop in a few long French beans to blanch very quickly. These should still be crisp and bright green – no mushy, floppy beans for this salad! As soon as the eggs (and beans) are done, plunge them straight into cold water to cool.

2. Meanwhile,  salt and squeeze any excess moisture from your very thinly sliced red onions – this will reduce the likelihood of regrettable after-lunch breath.

3. Salt and leave your sliced tomatoes in a sieve or colander to drain off some excess water.

4. Get a large bowl (wooden if possible) and rub it all over with your clove of garlic.  Then add the shredded lettuce, cucumber, green beans, onions, olives and small slivers of the anchovy fillets (or tuna flakes). If using salted anchovies, probably best to rinse them first and pull off any little bones or hairs you can see.  Toss together.

5.  Place the tomatoes in a glass bowl,  add salt, freshly ground black pepper and rip in the basil leaves and parsley. Toss together then add a few good glugs of olive oil. (If there’s not enough juice, you could always cheat and add in a bit of balsamic or red wine vinegar, or a vinaigrette).

6. Mix the tomatoes in with the rest of salad and toss together, keeping some of the tomato dressing aside.

7. Peel and slice your eggs into quarters or halves and place on top of the salad. Finish with the tomato dressing over the top and an extra glug of olive oil if needed.

Here’s the crucial bit – you have to eat a Salade Niçoise outside in the sunshine.  It simply won’t taste the same otherwise.

Et voila, bon appetit!

p.s I’ve got no picture to go with this one since it’s not Niçoise season yet. I’ll be holding off for another month or two until we start getting some really juicy, ripe, red tomatoes in.  The picture above is borrowed from David Lebovitz who also makes a mean Niçoise!

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