I just returned from a trip to St. Jacobs. I hadn’t been to the Farmers’ Market in years. It was a beautiful fall day and there were hundreds of vendors, inside and out. I love the sounds, sights and smells of markets and this time of year is probably the best time to visit one. The fall harvest is in full swing but I didn’t go to buy vegetables. I live in Norfolk County, Ontario’s Garden so I can get fresh local vegetables everywhere. What I was looking for was a nice fresh tuna steak. And I was not disappointed. I couldn’t wait to get home to make Salad Niçoise.
I’d been wanting to check out Caudles Catch Seafood for ages. When I found out they actually have a stall at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, I thought what a perfect excuse to go on a little excursion.
So what exactly is Salad Niçoise? Well for starters it’s pronounced “knee swaz.” After that it gets fairly complicated. I did a little research and discovered there’s quite the debate about what should and should not be included in this salad. Quite entertaining reading actually. Some versions say canned tuna. Some say never any cooked beans or potatoes. Experts even disagree on how to serve the salad – tossed or plated in arranged order. So, just for clarification, this is MY VERSION of Salad Niçoise. I don’t want to get beat up. Over a salad.
You can customize the ingredients to your liking. My perfect salad starts with a base of mixed greens. I get a bi weekly CSA share and I usually have some on hand so it’s nice to use fresh local lettuce.
I add cooked potatoes and green beans that have been marinated in some of the dressing. They can be cold or room temperature. Mini baby potatoes look best but you can quarter or eighth a regular potato.
Then I top with hard boiled eggs and cherry tomatoes.
Add to that some olives – Niçoise olives would obviously be the best choice but Kalamata are great in this too. And capers. I love the salty briny taste these add to the salad. Most “authentic” recipes call for anchovies but I skip them. Feel free to add them if you like. If your olives have pits, crush them with the side of a knife, they (usually) split open so you can take the pit out easily. You can cut them in half or leave them whole.
Finally, sear a thick good quality tuna steak in a really hot pan. Make sure you season both sides with salt and pepper, and add a bit of olive oil so the tuna doesn’t stick. This is what real tuna looks like.
You want a really nice crust on the outside and rare inside. If you aren’t comfortable with rare tuna, go ahead and cook it through. But trust me, if you haven’t tried it this way you really should! I serve about 1/4 pound of tuna per person.
It looks really nice with slices of tuna fanned on top of the salad. Cut it against the grain so it looks like this.
Finish with a good drizzle of dressing. A basic oil, vinegar, dijon dressing with tarragon is perfect on a Salad Niçoise. If you add some thinly sliced red onion to the dressing and let it marinate for a while before serving, the onion mellows a bit.
If this doesn’t make you salivate, we can’t be friends.
Here’s the recipe:
Salad Niçoise Serves 2 Ingredients 2 large handfuls mixed greens ½ pound fresh tuna steak, thick is best, plus olive oil for searing 8 mini potatoes or small chunks 2 handfuls green beans 2 hard boiled eggs 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes 12 Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted 2 tsp capers salt and pepper Dressing ¼ C olive oil 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar 2 tsp Dijon mustard 1 Tbsp fresh chopped tarragon or 1 tsp dried 2 Tbsp thinly sliced red onion salt and pepper Method Combine dressing ingredients and shake well. Add eggs to pan and cover with cold water. Bring to boil. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 15 minutes. Drain and cool in ice water. Chill. Scrub potatoes. Rinse and chop stems from green beans. Cut beans in half. Boil potatoes until just fork tender. Add beans for the last 2 minutes. Drain well. Add some dressing (2 Tbsp or so) to the warm vegetables and toss. Refrigerate. Heat heavy skillet to medium high. Pat tuna dry and season both sides with salt and pepper. Add 2 tsp olive oil when pan it hot. Sear tuna until browning and crusting. Turn and sear other side. Depending on the thickness of the tuna and the doneness preferred, searing can take any time from 1 minute per side to 4 or 5 minutes - if cooking through, reduce heat once the outer crust has developed to prevent drying out. Remove to cutting board to rest. Meanwhile, assemble the salad by dividing the lettuce between 2 large plates. Arrange the potatoes and beans, including any dressing between the 2 plates. Peel and quarter the eggs. Lay 4 pieces on each salad. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and arrange on salad. Remove pits from olives (if necessary) and divide between 2 plates. Sprinkle capers over top. Slice tuna into desired thickness and fan pieces over top of salads. Drizzle remaining dressing over top being sure to get dressing on all components of the salad including the tuna. You may not need all the dressing.