The Origins of Niçoise Salad
Smoked Mackerel Niçoise Salad. If you don’t already know a Niçoise salad is named after the French city of Nice. It is packed with Mediterranean or Provencal flavours. Nicoise salad has been described by Delia Smith as “one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented”. Who am I to disagree with Delia Smith. However, what are the ingredients in a Niçoise Salad? This is a matter for intense discussion.
So just what is Niçoise Salad?
It probably is the most difficult recipe for chefs and cooks to agree on. Anchovies, tomatoes and cucumber are virtually sacrosanct. As are some of the classic flavours of Provence, basil, garlic and oil olive. The original Niçoise salad was most likely a simple dish. Made of tomatoes, anchovies and oil and eaten by the less well off. However, the addition of other ingredients like small, boiled potatoes, red peppers, green beans, and black olives can cause outrage from more traditionalist cooks.
A little bit of Niçoise History
The classic Niçoise reflects the flavours of Southern France. Crisp, sweet, salad vegetables, boiled eggs and anchovies or tuna ( very often tinned tuna ). The father of modern cookery Auguste Escoffier made some of the first controversial additions. He produced a recipe including potatoes and green beans. In 1941 the Maître Chef de Cuisine of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel added capers and dressed the finished salad with vinaigrette. Today the list of famous chefs and their recipes for Niçoise is virtually endless.
The celebrated American food writer James Beard added rice other recipes include mayonnaise, croutons, cous cous and mushrooms and the fish can be salmon ( Jamie Oliver ) or shrimp ( Bobby Flay ). I like the ability to add something new to the dish. Like my Smoked Mackerel Niçoise Salad. It’s mostly classic ingredients with a couple of easily obtainable extra ingredients you can easily purchase in the supermarket. I like to finish my salad with a vinaigrette not just olive oil. I have to say olive oil is also perfectly acceptable.
What to Drink?
Vinaigrette is difficult to pair with wine because the acidity in the vinegar can make white wines with low acidity such as some new world Chardonnays taste very sweet and the flavours lack in depth and clarity. Acidity enhances the astringency of the tannins in red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and can make them feel furry on the tongue.
A Provençal Rosé with balanced acidity, and flavours tropical fruits like melon, mango and stone fruit like peach and apricot is an ideal pairing for a classic Niçoise with salted anchovies. A German style Halbtrocken or half dry / slightly sweet Kabinett Riesling similarly high in acidity and with fresh flavours of apple and pear pairs perfectly with the smoky mackerel and mustard in the dressing.
For a beer I would suggest a classic Belgian pale ale Saison Dupont. A slightly cloudy, bottle conditioned beer with fruity flavours, slightly hoppy and a long finish. Original a seasonal beer this brewed in the winter and drank by thirsty farm workers the following summer.
Smoked Mackerel Niçoise Salad
For the Salad
- 250 gr Smoked Mackerel
- 1 large Romaine Lettuce washed and drained
- 1 bunch Watercress washed and picked
- 8 ripe Vine Plum Tomatoes
- 8 Baby potatoes Jersey Royals if possible
- 100 gr fine French beans trim the tops and bottoms
- 4 Free-range soft-boiled Eggs
- 20 pitted Black Olives drained
- A small handful fresh Basil
For the Dressing
- 100 ml quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- A good glug Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 large clove of Garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon Mustard
- ½ teaspoon Jersey Sea Salt
- A pinch Caster Sugar
- Freshly ground Black Pepper
- Prepare the soft-boiled eggs, cool rapidly and shell. Store in the refrigerator until needed.
- Bring a pan of salted water to a rapid boil and cook the trimmed French beans for two minutes then plunge immediately into iced, cold water to refresh. Drain and set to one side.
- Wash and clean the potatoes. Place the potatoes in the pan and cover with cold water. Add a half teaspoon of salt and bring to a gentle boil, simmer until the potatoes slide of a small sharp knife. Plunge into cold water, cool and drain.
- Halve the tomatoes and carefully cut out the core with a small sharp knife. Cut each tomato half into four pieces.
- Remove the mackerel skin and carefully scrape of the darker brown meat along the centre of the fish. Break into chunks.
- To make the dressing, crush the garlic on a heavy chopping board with the salt using the blade of a large cook’s knife, then chop to a pulp. Whisk together with the remaining ingredients and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
- Arrange the Romaine lettuce leaves in bowls and add the picked watercress. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, French beans, and olives. Drizzle with dressing and top with torn basil leaves and mackerel. Halve soft-boiled eggs and add to the finished dish.