Building a Better Salade Nicoise
Seasoning each component individually is the key to a bright, full-flavored salad.
Problem: Most of the Nicoise salads we've encountered in this country are bland and lifeless--little more than a bed of lettuce in which a sea of dull dressing drowns lazily strewn piles of overcooked, underseasoned green beans and potatoes, unripe tomatoes, rubbery eggs, and soggy tuna.

Goal: A salad that tasted as fresh and flavorful as it looked.

Solution: Pair fruity extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice to create the base of the vinaigrette, then add fresh thyme, basil, oregano, shallot, and Dijon mustard to deepen the flavor. Use only the finest ingredients--oil-packed tuna (See "Tasting: Tuna Packed in Olive Oil" and Resource: Tuna Packed in Olive Oil"), vine-ripened tomatoes, butterhead lettuce, fresh green beans, freshly boiled eggs, and Red Bliss potatoes--and season each component of the salad individually. Top the composed salad with piquant capers, Nicoise olives, and anchovy fillets.

Serves 6 as a light main course

Prepare all of the vegetables before you begin cooking the potatoes and this salad will come together very easily. The classic garnish of tiny, briny, piquant Nicoise olives is a hallmark of salade Nicoise. If they're not available, substitute another small, black, brined olive (do not use canned olives). Anchovies are another classic garnish, but they met with mixed reviews from our tasters, so they are optional. If you cannot find tuna packed in olive oil, substitute water-packed solid white tuna, not tuna packed in vegetable oil. (Among water-packed tunas, StarKist solid white took top honors in our tasting of 10 leading brands.) Compose the salad on your largest, widest, flattest serving platter. Do not blanket the bed of lettuce with the other ingredients; leave some space between the mounds of potatoes, tomatoes and onions, and beans so that leaves of lettuce peek through.

1/2 cup juice from 2 or 3 lemons
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-large shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and ground black pepper

4 large eggs
10 small new red potatoes (each about 2 inches in diameter, about 1 1/4 pounds total), each potato scrubbed and quartered
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
2 medium heads Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces (about 8 cups loosely packed)
2 (6-ounce) cans olive oil-packed tuna (or three 4-ounce cans), drained
3 small vine-ripened tomatoes (about 14 ounces), each cored and cut into eighths
1 small red onion (about 4 ounces), sliced very thin
8 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed and each bean halved crosswise
1/4 cup Nicoise olives
10-12 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (optional)

1. For the vinaigrette: Whisk lemon juice, oil, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. For the salad: Place eggs in small saucepan, cover by 1 inch with cold water, and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill medium bowl with 1 quart water and 1 tray ice cubes. With slotted spoon, transfer eggs to ice water; let stand 5 minutes. Peel eggs and quarter lengthwise; set aside (reserve ice water).

3. Meanwhile, bring potatoes and 4 quarts cold water to boil in large Dutch oven or stockpot over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender when poked with paring knife, 5 to 8 minutes. With slotted spoon, gently transfer potatoes to medium bowl (do not discard boiling water). Toss warm potatoes with vermouth and salt and pepper to taste; let stand 1 minute. Toss in 1/4 cup vinaigrette; set aside.

4. While potatoes cook, toss lettuce with 1/4 cup vinaigrette in large bowl until coated. Arrange bed of lettuce on very large, flat serving platter. Place tuna in now-empty bowl and break up with fork. Add 1/2 cup vinaigrette and stir to combine; mound tuna in center of lettuce. Toss tomatoes, red onion, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in now-empty bowl; arrange tomato-onion mixture in mound at edge of lettuce bed. Arrange reserved potatoes in separate mound at edge of lettuce bed.

5. Return water to boil; add 1 tablespoon salt and green beans. Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain beans, transfer to reserved ice water, and let stand until just cool, about 30 seconds; dry beans well on triple layer of paper towels. Toss beans, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in now-empty bowl; arrange in separate mound at edge of lettuce bed.

6. Arrange reserved eggs, olives, and anchovies (if using) in separate mounds at edge of lettuce bed. Drizzle eggs with remaining 2 tablespoons dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers (if using), and serve immediately.


1. Combine two 8-ounce tuna steaks, each about 3/4 inch thick, with 2 tablespoons olive oil in gallon-sized zipper-lock bag; seal bag, place in refrigerator, and marinate, turning several times, for at least one hour or overnight. Remove tuna from bag, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Build very hot fire (you can hold your hand 5 inches above cooking grate for only 2 seconds); heat cooking grate thoroughly, scrape clean with wire brush, and wipe with small wad paper towels dipped in vegetable oil (hold wad with tongs). Grill tuna uncovered, turning once with thin metal spatula, to desired doneness, about 3 minutes total for rare and 4 minutes for well-done.

2. Follow recipe for Salade Nicoise, substituting grilled fresh tuna, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices, for canned tuna.

July, 2002
Original article and recipes by Adam Ried and Kay Rentschler