Dressing each component separately is the key to building a bright, full-flavored salade niçoise .
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Along the French Riviera, salade niçoise , the fresh and elegant-looking composed salad, is commonplace. But elsewhere renditions of this salad are bland and lifeless, little more than a layer of soggy lettuce with lazily strewn piles of overcooked and underseasoned green beans and potatoes, rubbery eggs, and tuna drowning in dressing. We started by focusing on the right lettuce. Butterhead lettuces such as Boston and Bibb proved more tender than romaine or leaf lettuces. Taking a nod from the French, we dressed our boiled potatoes while warm; they tasted more fully seasoned than those that had cooled. Tuna packed in water let the flavors of the vinaigrette shine through. Taking the time to dress each component separately really paid off; this guaranteed that every bite was fully and evenly seasoned. If you prepare all of the vegetables before you begin cooking the potatoes, this salad comes together easily. Briny niçoise olives are the classic garnish of salade niçoise. If they’re not available, substitute another small, black brined olive; do not use canned. Use small red potatoes measuring 2 inches in diameter. You may need to whisk the dressing to re-emulsify. Leave some space between the arranged mounds so that leaves of lettuce show through.
¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1¼ pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
2 heads Boston lettuce or Bibb lettuce (1 pound), torn into bite-size pieces
2 (5-ounce) cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked
3 small tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
1 small red onion, sliced thin
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and halved
3 hard-cooked large eggs, peeled and quartered (see here )
¼ cup pitted niçoise olives
10–12 anchovy fillets, rinsed (optional)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (optional)
1. FOR THE DRESSING Whisk lemon juice, shallot, basil, thyme, oregano, mustard, salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in oil.
2. FOR THE SALAD Place potatoes in large saucepan, add water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt, reduce to simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender and paring knife can be slipped in and out of potatoes with little resistance, 5 to 8 minutes. With slotted spoon, gently transfer potatoes to bowl (do not discard water). Toss warm potatoes with ¼ cup vinaigrette and vermouth. Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
3. While potatoes cook, gently toss lettuce with ¼ cup vinaigrette in 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 ¼ cup vinaigrette and stir to combine. Mound tuna in center of lettuce. In now-empty bowl, toss tomatoes and red onion with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange tomato-onion mixture in mound at edge of lettuce bed. Arrange reserved potatoes in separate mound at edge of lettuce bed.
4. Return water to boil and add 1 tablespoon salt and green beans. Cook until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, fill large bowl halfway with ice and water. Drain green beans, transfer to ice water, and let sit until just cool, about 30 seconds. Transfer beans to triple layer of paper towels and dry well. In now-empty bowl, toss green beans with remaining 2 tablespoons vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange in separate mound at edge of lettuce bed.
5. Arrange eggs, olives, and anchovies, if using, in separate mounds at edge of lettuce bed. Sprinkle entire salad with capers, if using. Serve.