Okay yup, I copped out on the whole snapper, and am doing Salade Niçoise for this week's dish. But there is a reason for this... after a hard week at work, I limp-ragged it through Friday afternoon, necessitating Nepalese takeout for dinner, then headed up to Baltimore to go to a street festival, where I ate deliciously creamy penne alla vodka and various deep fried delicacies. After that I could barely eat for most of Sunday, and decided that the best cure for this weekend of culinary excess would be a fresh, salty, acidic Salade Niçoise for dinner. And anyway, it's not really a copout. I mean, Julia did an entire show about Salad Niçoise. It also involves two basic kitchen techniques that it's always good to feature: blanching veggies and hard-boiling eggs.
Salad Niçoise always seemed like a rather appealing dish, fresh and filling at the same time, but I've actually never eaten it. The reason is that I've always seen it served in places that sell their salads in plastic clamshell packets, and the contents--limp lettuce, grey grainy tuna, over-boiled eggs with that awful green ring around the yolk--never inspired me to want to eat, let alone make, any such concoction. It seemed like the salad would be overly oily, salty and gross, and looking at the recipe in the Les Halles Cookbook did not inspire much confidence. Oh well. Today is apparently my time for Salade Niçoise, so let's get to it.
First, take about 6 ounces of haricots verts--that's green beans to you filthy Americans--and blanch them in a pot of boiling water. Tony gives a few tips on this. "Anytime you blanch a green vegetable, the more water and the more room, the better...[t]hey need plenty of room to swim around." Sounds good. Into the boiling pot they go for 6 minutes, then into an ice bath. Blanching vegetables is a great technique to use when you need greens or veggies (such as spinach, green beans, kale, etc.) that need to be cooked a little so they're not crunchy and tough, but can't be cooked too much or they turn to mush.
Next, the potatoes cook for 20 minutes, until they are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork.
While the potatoes cooked, I hard boiled two eggs. I'm not much of a hard boiler, really. Husband J and I both hate hard boiled eggs. I'm not a fan of rubbery white and chalky, crumbly yolk. I prefer soft boiled or poached eggs, I love dipping bread into a runny yolk, preferably mixed with a generous amount of butter and salt (I am salivating just thinking about this) and often eat soft boiled eggs for breakfast in little egg cups shaped like fish. (I know, precious, but it really is the most delicious breakfast with buttered toast.) So I had to turn to Tony's instructions: "How to Hard Boil a Freaking Egg" featured under the recipe for Oeufs Perigourdins (hard boiled eggs stuffed with yolks, ham and truffles, dipped in egg white meringue and deep fried in duck fat. Can't wait to see me try that one, can you?). Anyway, take cold water in a small pot, add the two eggs, then bring them to a boil.
Shut off the heat, clap on a lid and wait ten minutes, then put the eggs in an ice bath to cool. Then peel, halve, and check to see if they are done well.
Time for the salad dressing. Rub a garlic clove on the salad bowl, then add olive oil and red wine vinegar, and whisk with the fork, which should still have the garlic clove on it (mmm, garlic).
Then I took the bibb lettuce, peppers, potatoes (quartered), tomatoes, haricots verts, nicoise olives, and cut up pieces of anchovy, and tossed them in the dressing. Over this salad went the expensive yellowfin tuna packed in oil in a jar (not a can!!) and hard boiled egg halves.
Husband J and I took this dinner up to the roof for an al fresco dinner with a baguette and some cheese as a side.
The verdict: AMAZING. Anyone like me who thinks that this would be a weird, overly salty and kind of gross combination needs to shut the eff up and make this salad right now. It was an amazing meld of flavors that went so well together, it was like the veggies were expressly grown to meld with the dressing, fish, and eggs. The salad was a perfect main dish (as I suspected) nicely filling yet fresh at the same time. Husband J even ate his hard boiled egg half, and asked for (and dished himself) another half, which is an amazing feat for me. Yup, the eggs, cooked correctly, were not chalky or rubbery at all, but tender and creamy. While neither of us would eat the egg by itself, it tasted wonderful with the veggies and dressing to go with it.
Husband J opined that the salad was even better than our beloved tomato salad, because of the complexity of the flavors and the fact that it was more "main dish" than "side dish." We have both officially changed our tune about Salade Niçoise, and I can see myself fixing this dish again in the near future.
Lessons learned: Don't discount a dish just because it doesn't look good when it's takeout... buy the expensive tuna and anchovies, and give it a try. Properly boiled eggs make all the difference. Always make your own salad dressing by stirring it with a garlic clove.
Next week: I may try the whole roasted fish basquaise, or the skate grenobloise. But I may go crazy and cook the coeur de porc a l'armagnac. Keep an eye out for a middle of the week post... there's another chicken to be roasted, and I may try one of the potato recipes to accompany it.