I love me some niçoise. Most people are a little shocked the first time they encounter this salad. In the traditional preparation, lightly seared tuna is served on a bed of butter lettuce with hard boiled eggs, steamed green beans and potatoes. To a newcomer, it might appear that the salad is actually three or four different dishes, haphazardly confined to a undersized plate. However, the niçoise is no consequence of inadequate dishware – to the contrary, it is a delicate balance of fat, acid, crunch and tenderness. My composition honor’s the spirit of its ancestor, it just costs less.
Serves: 2 Nice People from Nice
Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes
- 1/2 lb. medium shrimp (20-30 count), peeled and deveined, tails on
- 1/2 lb small red potatoes (you can also use fingerling potatoes)
- 1 head butter lettuce (sometimes labeled Boston or Bibb; if you use Iceberg, you’re not allowed to make this salad ever again.) cleaned and torn
- 1 large handful arugula
- 1/2 cup Niçoise olives (substitute with Kalamata in an emergency)
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp fresh parmesan cheese (optional)
- Clean and halve the potatoes. If the potatoes are more than an inch wide in any dimension, halve them again. Big potatoes are not good for salad, but you probably knew that.
- Par-cook the potatoes until tender using your favorite method. I like to submerge the cut potatoes in a shallow microwave-proof dish and nuke for a few minutes. Also feel free to steam or boil the little buggers. You’re looking for a doneness of fork-tender, but not quite to the point of cracking or falling apart.
- Using a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the potatoes with a very small drizzle of olive oil until they start to pick up a little color. Set the potatoes aside and keep ’em warm.
- Make the dressing. Combine the garlic, olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and honey in a small food processor. Pulse for a while until it is emulsified. Salt and pepper the dressing to taste. Add half of the vinegar and taste again. Adjust the final flavor by adding the remaining vinegar, a little at a time, until you’re satisfied or too hungry to care anymore.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is hot and a little foamy, add the shrimp and cook until they have turned completely pink, but not much longer than that. The shrimp will finish cooking very quickly, so be careful not to over-exercise your sauté skills there, captain Benihana.
- Arrange the salad with the lettuce, arugula, potatoes, olives, shrimp and dressing. Top with a small amount of parmesan cheese, if you’d like.
This salad is also excellent with salmon, if you’d like to continue the variation on a theme. If you’re looking for a salad with a little more, well, meat, look no further.