As a child, anytime we ate canned tuna my dad would always place the sandwich or salad in front of me with a somber admonishment to “watch out for bones.” Despite his sterling intentions to avoid my choking to death at the table, this was not a particularly appetizing prelude, and any warm or fuzzy feelings I might have had about eating the tuna were immediately replaced with a certain (and totally understandable) antipathy. Eventually, I stopped eating it altogether.
That is, until several years later (all grown up, and no longer squeamish about the bones or whatnot general foodstuff may/may not contain). Lunching in a small cafe, I ordered the Salade Nicoise, and fell in love with it. I’ve tried many variations, and this one is my absolute favorite.
I should mention that while in the past I’d not been an ardent fan of green beans, these little French filet beans were a whole different story. Although they are commonly called haricots verts (vert being French for “green”) they are also available in yellow and purple varieties. I find this very funny, but any of the varieties work well here. They are small, sweet, tender snap beans and are typically available from mid-March through September. If you must, you can substitute with another type of green bean, just be sure to do so sadly (and adjust the blanching time accordingly).
While there is much debate among purists, especially in France (I know, shocking!), about whether or not it is okay to include cooked potatoes in the salad in order for it to be deemed “authentic”, this recipe contains the potato. I say go with what you like, and I like these potatoes a lot. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also point out there is no artichoke or red pepper in my version, and the anchovies are incorporated into the vinaigrette, instead of placing the fillets on top. So, while this Nicoise may be a bit of an anarchist, its also really, really good.
Here, I’ve plated the salad in individual portions, but it is quite nice presented on a big platter, especially for groups or parties. I serve the olives and the remaining dressing passed on the side – just add a loaf of fresh, warm bread with butter and a dry, chilly rosé and you’re all set for a fabulous, French-style fête.
Oh, and yeah, watch out for bones.
2 ounces anchovy fillets (about 8)
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
2 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, hardboiled, sliced
1/2 pound haricots verts
1 pound small red potatoes
1 head romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1 bunch of radishes, sliced thinly into rounds
8 ounces grape, pear or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 six-ounce can water-packed solid white tuna, drained and flaked
4 ounces Nicoise olives
For the dressing: In a small bowl, mash the anchovies into a paste using the back of a fork. Add the next four ingredients, one at a time, stopping to mix thoroughly after each addition. Whisk in the olive oil, and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
For the salad: Blanch the haricots verts by adding them to a medium saucepan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain, plunge into a bowl filled with ice water, and drain again. Pat dry and set aside.
Refill the saucepan with fresh water and add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until potatoes are cooked through and tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, and let cool for ten minutes. Cut potatoes into bite-sized wedges and place in a bowl, and gently toss with just enough of the reserved dressing to coat (about 3-4 tablespoons). Set aside.
To assemble, arrange lettuce on plates or a platter, and mound the lettuce in the center. Fanning out from the center, arrange reserved potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, haricots verts, egg slices and flaked tuna, and drizzle with about half of the dressing. Pass remaining dressing and olives on the side.
Note: If you are looking around for a good canned tuna, I highly recommend American Tuna and Island Trollers.