Salade niçoise is probably the most well-known dish to come from Nice; it is served in restaurants around the world and means quite literally Nice salad (note the capital N, salad from Nice rather than nice salad, but it is indeed that too).
It is a mixed salad composed of tomatoes, sweet green peppers (long thin salad peppers not the green equivalent of a red pepper), artichokes (in season), young broad beans (in season), cucumber, radish, spring onions, black olives (from Nice), hard boiled eggs, garlic (only to rub the dish with), anchovy filets or tuna, basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper. What it doesn’t contain is any cooked vegetables such as potatoes and green beans. Nor should it include salad leaves.
The olives should be whole with the stone left in and ideally be the little black ones from Nice itself. Purists will say that you should only have one form of protein: anchovies, tuna or eggs but most chefs now serve it with at least two; eggs and one of the fishes. It should not be served with vinaigrette, just a drizzle of olive oil. Cucumber and radish are optional and according to taste, some people also add celery. Everything should really be in season but I specified “in season” for the artichokes and broad beans because their season is much shorter than the other ingredients. They shouldn’t be used in late summer.
Having said all that, salade niçoise, being simply salad from Nice, comes in many variations of the above as it is not subject to the strict control of an AOC and its origins are little known. Apparently when it was first “invented” it was just referred to as “salad” because for local niçois people there was clearly no need to brand their salad as “from Nice” as that was kind of stating the obvious when they were in Nice. They were simply throwing together a few basic seasonal veggies, readily and cheaply available in the market or vegetable garden, which meant there were as many variations as there were families making it, with no formal recipe only oral traditions. It was only when the Riviera developed and restaurants, rather than ordinary families, started serving the salad that it needed a name. However, there is a strict unwritten code that native niçois understand and strangers don’t: not everything goes; you can’t just add any local product. Niçois can feel very passionate about this.
There are two main schools of thought about this humble salad, which really did start out humble – originally it contained only tomatoes, anchovies and olive oil. As life became less difficult in the county of Nice more ingredients were added. More about the historic paucity of Nice’s gastronomy can be read in my review of Nice food tour A Taste of Nice here. But back to the two schools of thought – 2 people who couldn’t be more different encapsulate two different ideas of what makes the perfect salade niçoise, firstly the esteemed chef Escoffier and secondly former mayor of Nice Jean Médecin. Escoffier, NOT a niçois, added cooked potatoes and green beans. As unlikely as it might seem the former mayor of Nice penned a recipe book of his grandmother’s traditional recipes and true niçois believe his take on the salad is the “right” one; definitely no cooked vegetables. As an adopted niçoise I like to think this version is right, but honestly I’m not a purist and when we make it at home we throw in a little bit of this and a little bit of that (though never potatoes). The photo below is one JF made with pine nuts, green olives and salad leaves. Very inauthentic!
How do you like your salade niçoise? Do you like to include potatoes or are you a purist?
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