It is surprising that for a recipe so many people get truly worked up about, there is no canonical recipe for salade Niçoise.
To quote the inestimable Nigel Slater:
Heyraud, author of La Cuisine à Nice, wrote in 1903 that the true salad of that name should contain quartered artichoke hearts, raw peppers and tomatoes, black olives and anchovy fillets. The dressing should be olive oil (what else in that part of the world?), vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard and chopped ‘fines herbes’ – by which he meant parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon. Not even a lettuce leaf here, and certainly no sign of any tuna.
The more you travel, the more you eat, the more you realise there are no real rules to this one, but there are constants. The omission of one of these ingredients is to miss the point. To be true to its name this salad must be true to its geography – it must reek of olives, garlic, anchovy and tomatoes. Crisp lettuce also turns up every time. The rest – the beans, the artichokes, the hard-boiled eggs, the onion, broad beans, new potatoes and chopped onion – will depend on the whim of those in the kitchen. I don’t go along with the peppers, partly because they confuse the issue, and partly because I can’t eat them raw.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Slater’s assertion that canned tuna should not be served with a salade Niçoise – to me, it defines the dish and helps to truly evoke the ocean breeze of the South coast of France.
So – in my version, I eschew potatoes (but feel free to use them if you can’t find fresh Fava beans), and I do use tuna, as well as having added some capers as well as sliced beets, cucumber and radish.
You don’t like my changes to “the classic” recipe? TFD respects your dissent, and you may feel free not to make the recipe, Citizen (but you’d be missing out on a gloriously evocative salad that is the essence of Summer!).
Battle on – The Generalissimo
For the Dressing:
1 clove garlic
Kosher salt, to taste
1⁄3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Salad:
1 small head of Boston or Bibb lettuce
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
½ cup peeled fava beans (if you can’t find fava beans, use a few cooked new potatoes, cubed instead)
6 oz. red baby beets, boiled until tender, peeled
4 Tbs. capers
8 oz. haricot verts, blanched
2 large heirloom tomatoes
½ cup black Niçoise olives
8 small radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
8-12 anchovy fillets (Ortiz brand strongly recommended), rinsed and drained, then cut into very thin strips
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
1 small cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, deseeded and then thinly sliced
2 cans or jars of high-quality, oil-packed tuna, drained (again, I prefer Ortiz brand)
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, to garnish
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions, to garnish
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.
Make the dressing: Mince garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle heavily with salt; using a knife, scrape garlic and salt together to form a smooth paste. Transfer paste to a bowl and whisk in oil, juice, mustard, shallot, and salt and pepper; set aside.
Make the salad: In a large salad bowl (preferably wooden), rub both the cut cloves of garlic hard against the sides of the bowl, discard garlic when done. 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.
Put all ingredients in bowl except eggs and anchovies and toss well – try and keep the tuna in decent-sized chunks. Drizzle dressing over all ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and then cover first with eggs and then anchovies. Garnish with basil and scallions just before serving.