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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Salade Niçoise


The salade niçoise* is another Mediterranean classic. This dish may have a French name but it is still peasant food like everything else I cook. It may be on the menu of expensive restaurants but it’s inexpensive and easy to make. Canned tuna is used almost exclusively when you order this dish in France so hold the seared, sushi-grade ahi tuna. Where? How about between your legs? If you’re looking for yuppie food you have the wrong guy and the wrong salad. I don’t mind people jazzing up a recipe but I do mind when chefs try to take food away from the people to feed the rich.

The basic ingredients are standard enough: tomatoes, onion, green beans, new potatoes, greens, olives, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, capers, and tuna—not much wiggle room. I looked around at dozens of different versions of this simple dish and they all had the same thing, more or less. I found a couple of tricks here and there but nothing that has drastically changed my own recipe. As you may have noticed, the ingredients for this salad read like an inventory of the best things in Mediterranean cuisine. Instead of French olives I bought some black olives from Aragón. I also opted for some big Spanish capers with the stem. The canned tuna and anchovies are from the supermarket and serve this dish very well.

I’ve had a somewhat troubled relationship with hard-boiled eggs. I have looked at literally dozens of recipes for this simple menu item and have tried every trick in the book and I still fail quite often. For today’s cooking my eggs happened to turn out perfect. I don’t know exactly what I did to deserve this bit of fortune but it may be due to the fact that the eggs I used weren’t particularly fresh. I had them sitting out on my counter for a few days. I have read that fresh eggs don’t lend themselves well to hard-boiling.

This salad stands on the strength of the ingredients you use. For me the least important of these are the greens. In fact, they are so unimportant to me that I forgot to buy them when I went to the market so my salad is green-less. I did, however, find some beautiful new potatoes that I boiled. I peeled and dressed them while they were still warm so that they would absorb the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice. I did the same with the green beans. After that I refrigerated these vegetables.

The tomatoes this time of year on the Mediterranean are amazing, so that wasn’t going to be a problem. You buy tomatoes this time of year and after a day in your kitchen they are practically bursting, as if they are impatient to be used in one form or another. The best way to use them in August is raw with just a pinch of salt and perhaps a drop or two of olive oil; leave the heavier dressing for the other, lesser vegetables.

Most of the French videos I looked at said that the dressing for this salad is a vinaigrette with quite a lot of vinegar (2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) and that mustard isn’t used in a salade niçoise. I’ll go with what the home team recommends. I’m going to try to mix vinegars because most recipes call for balsamic vinegar and I find it pretty strong to use at this ratio. I used the oil from the anchovies as a supplement to the regular olive oil. I added salt and oregano to the dressing as well as a little lemon juice.

My camera ate most of the first video I shot for this dish so I had to do it over the next day. Luckily I still had enough stuff leftover. I did have to go out and buy more greens which was sort of ironic since I don’t even like greens and I had forgotten to buy them the day before.

*Every time I have to use a Spanish or French character I’m thankful for the laptop I bought here in Spain even though it was expensive.

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