With its blend of healthy Mediterranean ingredients, Salade Nicoise checks all the ‘salad boxes’. We show you how to make a great version at home and reveal how the original version is different from the classic version that we all know and love.
Well into our Niçoise Salad research, we discovered that our favorite version of the French Riviera salad was not the original version. Apparently, the familiar preparation with green beans and boiled potatoes, is inauthentic.
We found this revelation to be kind of shocking considering that Salade Niçoise has achieved fame all over the world for having two key ingredients that, as it turns out, weren’t originally served in Nice. Those ingredients are potatoes and green beans.
Also, while it may be common to find tuna and anchovies in a Salade Niçoise, it’s considered incorrect to serve the two on the same plate.
How could a salad achieve such fame and permanence and yet be essentially incorrect?
We’ve eaten a number of niçoise salads in destinations around the world. They all tasted great and were relatively healthy. Call us heretics but we like the additional flavors and textures of both the potatoes and green beans.
To us, this is what Salade Niçoise is all about. And that’s how we make the not-so-classic French salad at home.
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What Is Salade Nicoise?
While the original Salade Nicoise was a simple salad, our favorite version is the one that gained fame in the late 19th century. That version, with its beautiful combination of greens (usually romaine), hard boiled egg, jarred tuna, boiled potatoes, haricots verts (string beans), anchovies and tomatoes, pleases the eye as well as the palate.
It’s also a healthy dish with ingredients ideal for a healthy Mediterranean diet. Tuna, anchovy and eggs provide a serious protein hit while bite-sized boiled potatoes bring enough carbs to the table to create a more than satisfying lunch or dinner.
Adding quality green beans, tomatoes and sometimes cucumbers will make you feel like you’re dining in a gorgeous seaside garden in the French Riviera. Piled high on a plate, this salad will wow your guests before it quickly disappears.
History of the Salade Nicoise
European history is littered with over-confident chefs who stick to a certain culinary orthodoxy which they believe should never change. Local people cooked dishes, sticking to those traditions, passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Dating back to the late 19th century, the Salade Niçoise is not one of these dishes. By European standards, the Salade Niçoise history really isn’t that old.
In many accounts, Jacques Medecin, a cookbook author as well as a former disgraced mayor of Nice, set strict rules that, with the exception of hard boiled eggs, allowed for no cooked ingredients. Medecin’s version included anchovies and a simple olive oil preparation in addition to fresh vegetables and olives.
Legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier strayed from Medecin’s rules by adding cooked haricots and potatoes to his Salade Niçoise recipe. It was a good call that transformed the salad into an elegant, satisfying dish and one that many have emulated. Can you blame them for choosing Escoffier over a disgraced mayor?!
All kidding aside, many dishes are more of a product of where they gained their fame rather than their place of origin – think about dishes like beouf bourguignon and hamburgers. Food evolves and, to us, the dish that everyone knows as Nicoise Salad – the dish with the green beans and boiled potatoes – is the dish we love and the dish we’ll show you how to make.
Salade Nicoise Ingredients
These are all of the required ingredients in our recipe:
Depending on your preference and what you have on hand, you can also add the following items:
You can prepare all of the cooked ingredients (i.e. hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes and green beans) ahead of time or just before serving the dish. The New York Times’ Melissa Clark likes to cook her ingredients ahead saying that the warm ingredients will absorb all the good flavors more deeply. This may be true and you may want to follow her method.
However, we’ve found that pre-cooking these components for final assembly makes for less chaos and stress. The beauty of this salad, as opposed to a dish like the Cobb Salad, is that you only have to follow strict timing and instructions to cook the components excellently. After that, almost anything goes.
Hard Boiled Eggs
We like to cook our eggs by fully covering them in cold water in a large (3-4 quart) saucepan, bringing them to a boil. Once the water is boiling, we immediately move them off the heat and cover the pot, letting the eggs sit covered for 10 minutes before immediately removing them to an ice bath to cool.
Hard boiled eggs typically stay fresh when stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. We recommend large eggs for this recipe, but you can use any size you like.
If you live in a European country like Italy, France, Spain or our home base of Portugal which doesn’t refrigerate its eggs, you’ll want to chill your eggs before boiling them. When we figure out how long to cook unrefrigerated eggs, we’ll let you know.
Haricot Vert (Green Beans)
Haricot vert add a burst of color and provide crunch. We like to trim the brown or woody ends of the green beans before we blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling, well-salted water.
You can blanch the green beans in advance and refrigerate them for 3 to 4 days unless you prefer to prepare them as you’re preparing the salad.
Not all potatoes are the same. We recommend using small waxy boiling potatoes like red bliss (red skin) or all purpose potatoes like Yukon gold.
Cook your potatoes by covering them with cold well-salted water in a large pot and bring them to a boil. The potatoes should be done after about 25-30 minutes when they can be easily pierced with a paring knife.
We recommend using the expensive tuna – the kind that’s packed in glass jars with labels like ‘Filetti di Tonno’ from Italy or ‘Bonito del Norte’ tuna from Spain. This kind of tuna is expensive, even here in Portugal. A name brand glass jar of tuna here costs €10 while the generic brand we bought cost us €5 compared to the euro we usually spend for a can of tuna. Ouch!
The extra cost is justified since there’s something special about the large, pure chunks of tuna that become part of this salad. Sure, you can also use everyday cans of ‘tuna in olive oil’ instead. That being said, the glass-jarred tuna is more special.
Click here to buy a jar of Bonito del Norte tuna if you want to splurge on this key Salade Nicoise ingredient.
We like to mince anchovies fillets and mix them into our dressing.
If you can find high-quality Spanish anchovies like we can buy in Portugal, we highly recommend buying them. Otherwise, regular anchovies canned in olive oil will suffice
You can add whole anchovies to your Salade Niçoise if that’s your thing. We may try them that way ourselves.
We typically use small olives like Niçoise (France), Arbequiña (Spain) and Galega (Portugal) olives to make Salade Nicoise. We recommend using any of those olive types when you make it as well.
In an ideal world, we prefer pitted olives. If you can buy them pitted, go for it. Otherwise, you can pit olives yourself by smashing them with a meat pounder of the flat side of a large knife.
Click here to buy a chef’s knife if you need one or want to upgrade.
Lettuce (Salad Greens)
You may be wondering what’s the best lettuce for Salade Nicoise
We recommend romaine lettuce but you can use Boston bibb (butterhead) or any other greens that suit your fancy. Some people like to serve their Salade Niçoise over whole leaves of romaine but that’s up to you.
We like to use cherry tomatoes though you could use grape tomatoes or a whole tomato instead. We chop them in half for this recipe.
Red Onions (Optional)
We add chopped red onion to our Salade Nicoise. It’s an optional ingredient that you can add or omit based on your affinity to onions.
Red onion imparts a decidedly acidic punch. Plus, its purple color looks great on the plate.
Salade Nicoise Dressing
Some people prefer a simple olive oil dressing for their Niçoise salad. We prefer the full flavor that vinaigrette brings to this salad.
We’ve created a balanced dressing with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, diced shallot, fresh herbs (thyme and tarragon) and a little lemon juice. We pour the vinegar into a large bowl first and then slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil to make an emulsion. We then whisk in the mustard, minced anchovy, shallot and fresh lemon juice. The whole process takes 10 minutes or less.
Dress the lettuce greens with about half of the dressing and spoon the rest over the composed salad.
Aside from the tarragon and thyme in the dressing, we like to garnish our salad with fresh parsley. These are the only herbs we use in our Salade Nicoise recipe.
How to Make Salade Nicoise at Home
Once you’ve assembled the ingredients, preparing this salad is super easy. You’ll want to use your best large platter or a charger plate. You could even use a large wooden dish to create a generous, abundant presentation.
Start by dressing your lettuce separately in a large bowl, using half of the vinaigrette. Then lay the dressed lettuce in a bed on the large platter or charger plate.
Lay down all of the ingredients on the plate in strips in a sunburst pattern. Once you’ve laid down the ingredients, generously spoon the remaining dressing on the top of the plated salad.
You can then garnish your salad with Italian flat leaf parsley. Yes. It’s that easy.
Salade Nicoise Recipe
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.