I was in high school on my first trip to France and was swooning over everything from the architecture to the accents and, of course, the food. Adding tuna and egg to my salad seemed adult to me, so I went for it.
When I was in culinary school, we had to make salade composeé on the regular. Translating to "composed salad," these are salads where every ingredient is arranged with the intention on each plate. It's clearly a concept that came out of brigade kitchens where you had tons of hands to pull together a meal.
The best known of these composed salads is likely the Salade Niçoise (pronounced Sah-lahd Knee-swa-zeh). Translating to a Nice-style salad, the dish is so named because it's said to hail from Nice's Southern French seaside town. It is usually made by combining tomatoes, anchovies or tuna, French-style green beans, and olives-boiled eggs.
At its best, it's a summery salad that's filling enough to be a complete meal, but it's often made as an afterthought with subpar ingredients. The truth is, that very first Niçoise salad I had was underwhelming, but it doesn't have to be that way.
On my latest trip to Provence, I was blown away by how excellent the quality of ingredients was, including standbys like this classic salad from Nice. The best version of Tuna Niçoise that I had when I traveled to France was loaded with fresh basil (I can never have too much basil) and fried capers, and those two simple twists were total game-changers. Taking a page from the brilliant folks at Serious Eats, I also smashed and fried the potatoes, and the result is a welcome update on this super classic salad that's just as chic as it is delicious.
Like we say time, and again around here, the quality of the ingredients will make or break this recipe. Here are tips to make it as flavorful and as effortlessly as possible:
peeled and quartered
Make The Anchovy Vinaigrette: Whisk together shallot, garlic, anchovies, and vinegar in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking. Add some salt and pepper and whisk to combine.
The vinaigrette can be made up to 5 days in advance. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
Make The Smashed Potatoes: Cover potatoes with at least 2 inches of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to just barely below a simmer and cook until potatoes are easily pierced by a fork, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add a huge pinch of salt, let stand in the cooking water until cooled slightly. Drain potatoes. If using right away, allow to cool to room temperature, then gently crush them.
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, then cook the potatoes until golden brown, about 5 minutes total. Set aside and salt.
The smashed potatoes can be made up to 3 days in advance. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
Fry The Capers: Return the pan to heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium heat until oil shimmers, add the capers and fry until just crisp, about 1 minute. Remove to a paper towel-line plate and set aside.
Blanch The Haricots Verts: Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan with water and season generously with salt. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Working in small batches, cook beans until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to chill. Drain beans and pat dry; beans can be refrigerated overnight at this point.
The green beans can be blanched up to 3 days in advance. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
Serve The Niçoise Salad; To serve the salad, arrange the greens, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, egg, olives, tuna, basil, and capers on a serving plate. Top with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of the dressing then serve, passing additional dressing along the side.
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