I have been preparing Salade Niçoise for over twenty-five years, which roughly parallels its popularity in Britain and my career in Soho. The Soho link has always been strong with this particular dish, simply because three vital ingredients have always been available there. They are: dry salted anchovies, dry salted capers and, most importantly, good-quality tinned tuna. Large tins of tuna steak packed in olive oil, often with a re-sealable lid, are the norm in Italy or Spain. Their quality is about as far above the usual dolphin-lethal, soy-oil-saturated Pacific tuna tins as is imaginable. I also happen to deplore the current fashion for seared fresh tuna in Salade Niçoise, tinned is the stuff for me.
What precisely goes into this mainstay, southern French dish is subject to considerable debate.
Most of the recipes in this book list the ingredients with their basic preparation done. Here I am going to go into more detail, particularly with the eggs, beans and potatoes, because the precise methods of preparing them are important. Judging from my experience as a cookery teacher, these apparently simple processes are the ones that people either get wrong or are generally uneasy about. So I hope you will bear with me if this recipe seems interminable.
Put all the dressing ingredients except the oil in a food processor and whizz until smooth. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream until the dressing starts to thicken. You may need
Rinse the anchovies in cold water for about an hour, then pull the fillets away from the bones. This is much easier than it sounds. Rinse the capers for about the same time as the anchovies. Drain and dry the anchovies and capers well.
Scrub the potatoes thoroughly until nearly peeled, rinse then cover with a copious quantity of cold water, add salt and bring to the boil. Continue boiling for a further 5 minutes, switch off and allow to cool completely in their cooking water. Providing the potatoes are small, they will be perfectly cooked by the time the water is cold.
Add some salt to the egg water and return it to the boil. Drop the beans in for 3 minutes or so. The beans must be fully cooked, I hate squeaky, undercooked French beans. Drain the beans and refresh in a bowl of cold water, then drain thoroughly.
Peel and chop the onion into rings. Quarter the tomatoes and season them. Quarter the lettuce lengthways: do this at the last possible moment or the leaves will turn brown. Flake up the tuna. Slice the potatoes and cut the eggs in half.
Put the tuna, lettuce, celery leaves, beans, potatoes and capers in a large bowl with
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.