If lingering over your lunch with a crisp, mineraly Chablis sounds like the perfect afternoon, you and Julia Child would have gotten along swimmingly.
Can I come, too?
Named for the city of Nice, Niçoise salad (also known as salade Niçoise) is just that. Nice. But it’s so much more.
It’s classy. It’s colorful. It’s bursting with flavors and textures.
If you’ve never had one, let me try to describe the experience of eating it in a simple sentence. Ready? Here it goes:
It’s the straight up opposite of scarfing down fast food in your car.
Not that I’m knocking that ritual. There’s a time and a place for everything (says the girl who ate a spicy chicken burrito in her car at midnight last week after a long night at the emergency vet).
A Niçoise salad begs to be enjoyed with leisure. Just look at the glorious hodgepodge of humble ingredients–several of which, in contrast to the salad’s overall freshness, are canned. But that’s the beauty of tradition.
I believe that’s also where the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes from.
Devouring this French dish is like a flirtatious game you get to play with your taste buds. Do we want a slippery, pungent olive next? How about a buttery sliver of egg? Maybe a fluffy potato?
There are no wrong choices.
Many modern chefs have put their own ritzy spin on the recipe, and though I absolutely appreciate an elevated homage when it comes to food, let’s be honest. Julia Child would roll over in her grave if she knew folks were assembling salade Niçoise with seared ahi.
JC didn’t invent the summer salad or anything, but she is the fairy godmother of French cooking for Americans. So I stick pretty close to the majority of the elements in her recipe.
Here’s one liberty I decided to take:
Instead of preparing her French-style potato salad separately (as the original recipe calls for), I borrowed its sharp shallots and parsley and added them to the mustardy dressing that brings everything together.
Veering off the path with seasonal produce is also acceptable.
Don’t let the idea of a feisty, six-foot-tall ghost in an apron and pearls scare you off from snagging those local microgreens at the farmer’s market.
Some of the fresh veggie components of a classic Niçoise include crisp green beans, butter lettuce, and juicy tomatoes. But thin asparagus, radishes, and a mesclun in the spring, or heirloom tomatoes and cucumber for summer are a great way to make use of what’s in season.
There’s no denying that the preparation can be a bit fussy. I won’t lie to you. But I will tell you that the end result is so worth every bowl you’ll stack in your sink.
And we didn’t even take it to the most extreme end of the spectrum. Some Niçoise purists won’t even boil the potatoes in the same water as the string beans! Yikes. Couldn’t be me.
I like to live on the edge. Also, my dishwasher can only take so much.
Dressing and plating each element on its own is the other timely part of the process, but you truly want each ingredient to shine in its own right. And its hard for tomatoes to be shiny when they’re covered in tuna.
Whether it’s the repetitious task of prepping one ingredient at a time or the meticulous job of perfectly placing each caper that feels daunting, remember the reward that comes after.
The thoughtful process of constructing a Niçoise salad parallels the way you’re meant to enjoy it. Slowly, and without a care in the world (other than who you need to ask to pass the bread basket).
As JC would say, bon appetit!Print
If you need some salad inspiration, turn to this Niçoise. It’s a mouthwatering mélange of string beans, olives, and hard-boiled eggs.
- 3/4 pound fingerling potatoes (or new potatoes)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces French string beans (haricots verts), trimmed
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 small head butter lettuce (such as Boston or bibb), leaves separated
- 1 cup halved red cherry tomatoes
- 8 ounces oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked
- 1 2-ounce can flat anchovy filets packed in oil, drained (optional)
- 1/4 cup black French olives (such as Niçoise)
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- Add the potatoes to a large pot and cover with cold water by a few inches. Bring the water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, and then reduce the heat to medium. Simmer the potatoes until fork tender, about 10-12 minutes.
- While the potatoes are cooking, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, shallots, parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, and the red wine vinegar. Whisking as you pour, drizzle in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Season to taste with salt and set aside.
- Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the potatoes from the pot and set them aside. Bring the water back to a boil. Prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the string beans to the boiling water, blanch for 2 minutes, then immediately transfer them to the ice bath. Remove the string beans from the ice bath after 2-3 minutes and set them aside. Bring the water back to a boil.
- When the potatoes are just cool enough to handle, halve or quarter them so they are cut into pieces of about equal size and place them in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the dressing over the warm potatoes and toss to combine. Set aside.
- Refresh your ice bath. Gently lower the eggs into the water, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook uncovered for exactly 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to the ice bath. Remove the eggs when they’re cool to the touch, in about 3 minutes. Peel, halve, and set aside.
- While the eggs are cooking, set out four salad plates. In a large, clean mixing bowl, toss the lettuce with a few tablespoons of the dressing and begin building your salads. Toss the string beans with a few tablespoons of the dressing and plate them. Add the tomatoes to the bowl and toss with about 1 tablespoon of the dressing before arranging on your plates. Finally, add the tuna to the bowl, toss with the remaining dressing, and divide among your plates.
- Add even portions of the dressed potatoes, olives, and anchovy filets to each plate. Sprinkle with the capers and serve with crusty French bread.
- Prep Time: 35 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Salad
- Method: Boiling
- Cuisine: French
Keywords: salad, nicoise, french, egg, anchovy, tuna, olive
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Gather, Prep, and Measure Ingredients
Feel free to change up some of your veggies based on what’s fresh and in season.
Mince the shallots and chop the parsley. Trim the string beans, unless you bought a bagged ready-to-cook version (which usually comes prepped). Separate the lettuce leaves (gently tearing any larger ones so they’re bite-size), halve the cherry tomatoes, and drain and flake the tuna.
Step 2 – Boil the Potatoes and Make the Dressing
Cover the potatoes with cold water in a large pot over high heat, keeping in mind you’ll also be cooking the eggs in here and they need to be covered by at least 1-inch of water.
Bring the water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, then reduce the heat to medium so the outsides don’t cook too fast. Simmer the potatoes until they’re tender enough for a sharp knife to slide right through, about 10-12 minutes.
Prep the dressing while the potatoes are cooking. If you’re not a fan of red wine vinegar, you can substitute lemon juice, white wine vinegar, or champagne vinegar for a similar acidic bite.
In a small bowl, add the mustard, shallots, parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, and the red wine vinegar. Whisking as you pour, slowly add in the olive oil to emulsify and thicken the dressing. Season to taste with salt and set aside.
Instead of draining the water, use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the potatoes from the pot. Set them aside and allow them to cool slightly.
Step 3 – Blanch the String Beans
Bring the water in the pot back to a boil and prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl nearby. Shocking the beans in the ice water stops the cooking process immediately and preserves their bright green color.
Blanch the string beans for 2 minutes, and then (using tongs or a slotted spoon again so you can reserve the water in the pot) immediately drop them into the ice bath. Remove them after 2-3 minutes and set aside.
Step 4 – Toss the Warm Potatoes with the Dressing
Bring the water in the pot back to a boil.
The vinaigrette will cling and soak into to the potatoes best while they’re warm, so you want to make sure you do this step right when they’re cool enough to handle. Halve or quarter the potatoes so they’re bite-size and then transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of the dressing and toss to coat. Set aside.
Step 5 – Make the Hard-Boiled Eggs
Some of your ice will have melted at this point, so refresh your ice bath as much as you need.
Gently lower the eggs into the boiling water, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook uncovered for exactly 7 minutes. Keep in mind that if you’re boiling the eggs straight from the fridge (and they’re cold instead of room temperature), they’ll need closer to 10-12 minutes.
While the eggs are cooking, set out four salad plates.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to the ice bath. Remove the eggs when they’re cool to the touch, in about 3 minutes. Crack the shells and peel under running water, halve using a very sharp knife so they slice easily, and set aside.
Step 6 – Dress and Plate the Remaining Ingredients
Begin building your salads by first tossing the lettuce leaves with a few tablespoons of the dressing in the mixing bowl where you tossed the potatoes. Once your greens are dressed, divide them among 4 plates. The leaves will act as a bed for the other ingredients, so you want to evenly spread them in a single layer.
Add the string beans to the mixing bowl, drizzle in a few tablespoons of the dressing, toss, and divide among the plates.
Repeat this process with the tomatoes by adding them to the mixing bowl, tossing with about 1 tablespoon of the dressing, then arranging on the plates.
Finally, add the tuna to the mixing bowl, toss with the remaining dressing, and evenly divide among the salads.
Step 6 – Finish Plating and Serve
Niçoise olives have a rich, briny flavor and are the best choice for this salad, but you can substitute kalamata.
Keeping the presentation clean and tight, add even portions of the dressed potatoes, egg halves, olives, and anchovy filets to each plate. Sprinkle with the capers and serve with crusty French bread.
Sounds Fishy to Me
If you simply cannot get down with the concept of anchovies, you’re not alone. I’m one of those annoying people who loves garlicky Caesar dressing from a restaurant (typically loaded with the small oily fish), but will flick one off the top of my salad at first sight.
It’s an essential element in Niçoise salad, however, so I got over it. That’s how dedicated my love for Julia Child is. But if you truly can’t take the anchovy garnish, here are your options.
First, skip it. It’s a free country. Second, if you don’t mind anchovies, but don’t necessary want to eat them whole, you can mash a few of the filets right into the mustard vinaigrette. They’ll blend beautifully and you won’t lose out on their umami punch.
How will you spin this salad so it fits your taste buds like a glove? Share your ideas in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
One chomp into some crisp-tender haricot verts swaddled in shallots and vinegar renewed my love for the stalky green bean. If you feel the same, here are a few more recipes that showcase the fibrous veg:
- Roasted Parmesan Green Beans
- Crispy Oven-Baked Green Bean Fries
- Thyme Seasoned Green Beans with Tomatoes
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on March 15, 2015. Last updated on April 9, 2022.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”