Wow! It’s already Week 4 of the countdown to what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday on August 15th. This week we’re celebrating by preparing the Provençal classic, Salade Niçoise, a composed salad that combines fresh seasonal produce with the delightful flavours of the Mediterranean.
My first thought upon seeing this week’s recipe was “thank goodness I just got my knives sharpened”. My second thought was “why are we cooking with canned tuna”?
The term Niçoise in culinary preparations indicates a style of cooking characteristic of the region of France surrounding the city of Nice. Born in the village of Villeneuve-Loubet, the king of chefs and chef of kings Auguste Escoffier was a Niçois. He was also a very successful entrepreneur who just happened to have his hand in the canned food business. Being a clever fellow, he invented the Salade Niçoise to market his own products, and therein lies the reason a traditional Salade Niçoise always calls for canned tuna. In The Way to Cook, Julia explains that “being a great fan of potatoes, beans, eggs, and tomatoes in a salad, I naturally opt for the Escoffier ingredients; I am a great fan of his too, and he was a Niçois, after all.”
Since Escoffier’s day, there have been nearly as many variations of this dish as there are cooks in Provence. This is Julia’s…
Julia Child’s Recipe for Salade Niçoise
|The JC100: Salade Niçoise|
- 1 large head of Boston lettuce, washed and dried
- 2 to 3 Tbs virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed, blanched, refreshed in cold water, and dried
- 2/3 to 1 cup salad dressing*
- 3 or 4 fine ripe red tomatoes, peeled if you wish, and cored, quartered, and seasoned before serving
- 8 to 10 ounces oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked
- 1 quart French Potato Salad**
- 8 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
- 1 can flat anchovy fillets packed in oil, opened and drained just before serving
- 1/2 cup black Niçoise-type olives
- 3 or 4 Tbs capers
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- Shortly before serving, line a handsome, large and wide salad bowl, or a roomy platter with lettuce leaves, drizzle a little olive oil on them, and dust with a sprinkling of salt. Toss the beans in a mixing bowl with a little of the dressing, and correct seasoning. Drizzle a spoonful or two of the dressing over the tomatoes. Season the tuna lightly with a spoonful or two of the dressing. Place the potatoes in the centre of the bowl or platter; mound beans at strategic intervals, interspersing them with tomatoes and mounds of tuna. Ring the salad with the eggs, and curl an anchovy on top of each. Spoon a little more vinaigrette over all; scatter on olives, capers and parsley. Serve as soon as possible.
- *In the original recipe, Julia directs the reader to her recipe for Oil and Lemon Dressing (or its garlic variation). You can use any simple vinaigrette with a ratio of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
- **To make French Potato Salad, combine 1 1/2 pounds warm, sliced, cooked potatoes in a bowl with 2 Tbs finely minced shallots or scallions, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, 1/4 cup chicken stock or potato-cooking water, 1 1/2 Tbs wine vinegar, and 2 to 3 Tbs chopped fresh parsley. Let steep 10 minutes or so, tossing gently several times. Then correct seasoning, and toss with 2 to 3 Tbs light olive oil if you like.
“A bountiful arrangement in bowl or platter is so handsome to behold that I think it a cruel shame to toss everything together into a big mess. A careful presentation means more work, but it’s easily manageable when you ready each of the numerous ingredients separately, which you can do well ahead. Season each just before assembling and serving, and you will have the perfect Salade Niçoise.”
Julia may have been a fan of Escoffier’s, but I can’t say the same for me and green beans. I chose to make a vegetable tumble instead, using only a handful of beans and replacing the rest with celery, cucumber, basil, red pepper and French breakfast radishes.
Like most salads, the first step is to wash the lettuce thoroughly in a sink of cold water, use a salad dryer to spin the leaves dry, then store them loosely in a clean tea towel in the refrigerator until you’re ready to compose your masterpiece.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the rest of the recipe is just about tossing some ingredients together on a platter. It’s so much more fun than that. It’s a dish that’s bursting with opportunity for you to practice some classic French culinary techniques. Here are just a few of the ones I used while preparing mine:
- Bâtonnet - to cut French breakfast radishes into sticks
- Chiffonade – to shred basil into thin ribbons
- Ciseler – to finely mince garlic cloves for the dressing
- Hacher – to chop the parsley
- Julienne – to cut the red pepper into very thin strips
- Sifflet – to cut the celery on an angle
- Dépépiner – to remove the seeds from the cucumber before slicing it into half-moons
- Émincer – to thinly slice the potatoes
- Blanchir – to blanch the green beans
- Émonder – to remove the skins from the tomatoes
I once heard a chef say that anchovies are like the Gorgonzola of the fish world. People either love them or they hate them. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, you might want to use another classic French technique, dégorger, to tone down the flavour of the anchovies. If you like yours a little less fishy, try soaking them in milk for about 10 minutes, then pat them dry before adding to the salad. Personally, I love them. They are so wonderfully salty that they taste like they’ve been brined in sea water. Together with the bold flavours of the olives and capers, these three ingredients are as essential to Salade Niçoise as butter is to Sole Meunière.
“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”
~ Julia Child
One of the nice things about a composed salad is that it’s very easy to de-compose. (Although I’m serious, I still hope you laughed when you read that!) If you have leftovers like I did, you can scoop up any remaining tuna, mix it with a bit of mayonnaise, and have a tuna sandwich for lunch the next day. You can also put aside the potatoes, pan-fry them and serve them for breakfast the following morning. Or, if you’re feeling very French, you could toss them in a little duck fat, add some fresh thyme sprigs or a little rosemary, and roast them in the oven until they’re crispy and golden.
The JC100 recipe excerpt doesn’t include instructions for Julia’s Oil and Lemon Dressing or its garlic variation. I opted to make a simple vinaigrette by combining 2 Tbs white wine vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, one finely minced garlic clove, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch each kosher salt and white pepper, then I slowly whisked in 6 tbsp olive oil. It’s fast, easy and ridiculously good.
Each Thursday, the JC100 team posts the original recipe in its entirety on their blog under the heading Get Cooking Thursday.