Sunday, September 13, 2009

Salade Niçoise

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.

Plenty of room... they were perfect!

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.

Boiling eggs

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.

No yucky ring = hard boiled perfection. Kind of like Raymond Chandler.

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.


  1. Looks great! I've also never tried but always wanted too... Roasting a whole snapper is also on the list... looking forward to seeing it... seems like I need to live vicariously through you! :)

  2. Thanks for the kind words! Maybe we should get together to roast the fish. It's a Basque recipe after all, so J-Bo will feel at home. I also need to grill you guys on travel tips, since I want to take Husband J to Costa Rica sometime in the future. Let me know when you might visit from Chicago if your Note doesn't have you buried...

  3. Hey kid, Adam mentioned you were doing this a few weeks ago; it looks like you're doing great.

    Regarding eggs: I did not eat them for the first 25 years of my life, and I've been trying to catch up in the past year. So far, I've tried scrambled eggs about 50 different ways, and Gordon Ramsay's recipe is by far my favorite to date (

    Haven't tried it with the tomatoes and mushrooms and toast, works just fine alone.

    Still wary of hard boiled eggs though, I have terrible smell-memories of my grandmother and mother's egg salad and chicken liver pate with grated hard boiled eggs in it.

    Give me a heads up when you work your way towards the steak frite.

  4. Thanks for reading. I'll have to try the scrambled egg recipe sometime, since I haven't found a way to cook them perfectly yet (I definitely want the mushroom and tomato and toast with it, though). But you should try my soft boiled egg recipe, which is basically put the egg in boiling water and leave it there for 5 min 45 seconds, which results in nicely cooked white and runny yolk. Good with toast and anchovy. Hard boiled are not as good, but as long as you don't overcook them they won't smell bad (I learned this from Alton Brown of course).

    I'm a little scared of the frites to be honest. I'm stockpiling peanut oil but may have to buy a 2 lb tub of duck fat for some other recipes, so why not try that? However, I work on a gas range so I will need a vigilant gentleman or lady to stand by with a fire extinguisher. The volunteer will get free frites, assuming they turn out...

  5. It is a heck of a scrambled egg recipe, though now you've got me thinking about toast and soft boiled egg and anchovies, have you ever had bagna cauda? It's usually a Pidmontese dipping sauce for vegetables, but really it's just butter and olive oil and garlic and anchovies boiled until the garlic and anchovies disolve and become a delicious, Italian light-sweet crude, that I'm thinking should now be spread on toast before cutting into strips for dunking into the egg. Or perhaps some sort of double dipping scenario. I haven't even begun to explore the possibilities of adding fish and eggs together, though I did make Marco Pierre White's Omlette Arnold Bennett which was awesome, though the minute I ate it I started trying to think of ways to make it without finding haddock or having to poach it, and without dumping a ton of Old Bay on it.

    Thoughts regarding frite, and frite related issues:
    1) Do not fear the frite.
    2) Duck fat > beef tallow > peanut oil. McDonald's used to fry in beef fat, and they were amazing.
    3) On the subject of duck fat frites, I'm still dying to find somewhere that does merguez frite, but no such luck.
    4) Gas range is always better, more responsive.
    5) Better to use baking soda on an in kitchen grease fire, ABC fire extinguishers will put out the flames no problem, but they might also spray the hot oil all over the place depending on their PSI and how close you get it to the pot. That being said, I would be happy to strap a squib sheet of soda to my stomach and flop flat frite fryer fires for free fries (yay aliteration!) ESPECIALLY if you find pave, onglet or bavette d'aloyau to go along.

  6. Yeah the eggs were great--I made them for Husband J on Sunday morning since I had tomatoes and sourdough to use up, and got some fresh mushrooms at the market. The combo was excellent.

    I haven't had bagna cuda but have made similar sauces... it's magic the way the anchovy dissolves isn't it? It would be outstanding with eggs.

    You might have a point with the extinguisher, since my kitchen is so small there would be a chance of flying oil. I'll stock up on the soda pre-fry. Tony recommends the fat that surrounds a veal liver as the perfect frying fat, but that strikes me as pretty perishable and hard to come by. And don't worry, there will be onglet and pave

    For merguez frite, I recommend Bistrot du Coin in Dupont Circle as having some of the best merguez and frites I've had in the city.

    Stay tuned for tonight's post... it's a doozy.