Not your Mother’s Picnic Potato Salad
I’ve never been fond of traditional American Potato Salad; you know, the kind with hard boiled eggs and creamy mayonnaise dressing. I think its because as I child, I didn’t like the texture of mayo. And to this day I don’t like the commercial stuff (Best Foods, Miracle Whip, Hellman’s etc.), but can enjoy a good fresh homemade mayo or good quality Organic Avo-Mayo.
So one 1979 day I was walking around the Fifth Street Market in Eugene Oregon, shopping for a gift. I was feeling hungry as I walked past a small French-style cafe, and noticed an interesting looking salad that had just been set out. The decorative sign card said “Nicoise” and I just had to give it a try. Chock full of potatoes and other veggies along with hard boiled eggs, Greek olives and a hint of anchovy, it was dressed not with mayo but with a vinegar and oil type dressing. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
- Includes: 1. Salade Nicoise, with Tuna; 2. Salade Nicoise, with Salmon
- See also: 1. Salads Menu; 2. Vinaigrette Dressings Menu; 3. Mediterranean Dressing; 4. Potato, Cucumber and Dill Salad with a distinctly different mayo-free dressing
Salade Niçoise, with Tuna
This is my own recipe, based on that salad at Eugene’s Fifth Street Market. Serves 4 – 6 as a main dish. For another version of this wonderful French salad, see Viking River Cruises: Salade Niçoise (1).
Arranged in layers, this salad makes a spectacular presentation; great for parties or luncheons. It sounds difficult, but it isn’t really, though it does take a bit of time to prepare all the ingredients. And it is so worth the effort. Serve it in your prettiest large bowl.
I believe that when this salad originated in the Provence region of France, it was made with anchovies and tuna, both of which were abundant in the Mediterranean. In America, where many people make faces at the salty anchovy, this salad is usually made just with tuna. My recipe includes both: grilled tuna in the salad, and anchovy paste in the dressing. If you want to make this vegetarian, you can omit both, but the taste just won’t be authentic without at least the anchovy.
July 2011: I had some grilled wild sockeye salmon to use up so I made this salad with salmon instead of tuna; superb! It’s the dressing that makes this salad (with anchovy paste).
For the olives, you must use brined olives, not canned. In many markets, several varieties of brined olives are in glass containers at a table; you scoop out what you want into a container. For this salad, green brined olives are preferred, but if this is not available, Greek kalamatas, which are a black olive, are available in a refrigerator section of most grocers. Or better yet, a green and black brined Greek olive mix. Its best to select pitted versions, but if you cannot find those, forewarn your guests about the pits.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- Mediterranean Dressing (make a double recipe, but you may not use all of it). I add a little extra tarragon for this salad.
- 8 – 12 oz fresh tuna steak (not canned)
- 3 eggs (for hard boiling)
- 4 – 6 small red potatoes
- about ½ green bell pepper
- about ½ yellow or orange bell pepper
- 1 pound haricots vert, or young green beans (if they are more than 3″ long, snapped into 2 – 3 pieces)
- 2 – 3 ripe tomatoes
- 1 small or ½ large cucumber
- 1 small red onion
- 1 head of romaine lettuce
- ¼ cup dry vermouth (or other dry white wine)
- ½ pound Greek olives (kalamata) or other brined olives, pitted
- steamer or saucepan (for blanching)
- 6 – 7 small bowls
- medium mixing bowl
- large bowl for serving
- Prep ingredients: (NOTE: Many of these tasks can be done concurrently, to save time.)
- Salad dressing (see Mediterranean Dressing): Prepare in blender and keep cool until ready to use (best to keep in a cool cupboard, or set jar in a bowl of cool water, rather than in the refrigerator, so the olive oil won’t solidify).
- Tuna: Broil or grill to desired doneness, but not too rare. Chill, then cut into ½ inch cubes. If you can’t get tuna, try swordfish, or even wild salmon. Use canned tuna only as an absolutely last resort.
- Eggs: Hard boil, then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Shell eggs; then either slice in rounds, or in wedges.
- Potatoes, Scrub, then salt lightly and steam about 15 minutes until al dente. Then chill a bit. Slice.
- Peppers. Wash well, then using only half of each pepper, cut into rings, about ¼ inch thick, and trim away the seeds. Blanche (dip into boiling water for a few seconds), and then place in ice water to stop the cooking. (Reserve the remaining peppers to add to any leftover salad).
- Haricots vert or green beans: Wash and trim; blanche and ice them as you did the peppers.
- Tomatoes: wash and cut each into 8 wedges.
- Cucumbers: peel unless they are young, with tender peels (or are English cucumbers). Cut in half lengthwise. Using the tip of a small spoon, scoop out the seeds from each half. Then slice into ½ inch chunks.
- Romaine: Wash enough leaves to line your large salad bowl. Pick leaves that are long and pretty. Pat them dry with a towel. Chill until ready to assemble salad.
- Onion: slice into thin rounds. Cut the rounds in half and separate the layers.
- Vermouth: add to the cooked potatoes in a bowl, toss to coat, and let sit until they have absorbed most of the wine. Then add the tuna and onion. Add a little of the dressing and toss well to coat. Chill until ready to assemble.
- In separate bowls, toss each of the veggies (except the romaine leaves and tomatoes) with a little dressing. Chill until ready to assemble.
- Assemble salad in layers
- Line your large salad bowl with the romaine, so that the tips of the leaves extend past the edges of the bowl.
- Add the potato/tuna/onion mixture and level out across the bowl.
- Arrange the green beans on top in a layer.
- Scatter a few olives.
- Arrange the egg rounds in a layer above the beans. *
- Arrange the bell peppers rings in another layer.
- Scatter the cucumber chunks and remaining olives inside the pepper rings.
- Arrange the tomato wedges in a large ring around the outside of the salad. *
- Pour a little more dressing over the salad; then chill until ready to serve. Salad is best if it chills for at least 2 hours before serving.
- Serve: Give your salad pride of place in the middle of your table. If you have a nice set of tongs, they will make it easier to serve the salad. Otherwise a wood salad serving set will do. Your guests may be a little reluctant to break into the salad, it is so pretty. You may have to be the one to do it.
* An alternate way of using the eggs is to slice them in wedges and arrange with the tomatoes in two large rings around the outside of the salad after all other ingredients have been layered.
Salade Niçoise, with Salmon
Make as above, but use hot-smoked (kippered) salmon, or cooked, fresh wild-caught salmon instead of tuna.
- Viking River Cruises recipe for Salade Niçoise: vikingrivercruises.com/email/saladenicoise.aspx