Mary Cooks: Salad Nicoise

Salad Niciose is a bit of a trick. There's a lot of bitter in there and not much opportunity to introduce anything sweet to balance it out. And, unlike tossed or chopped salads, it is made of a number of separate pieces that are then assembled on the plate providing little opportunity to taste the whole until it is on the table. With power restored and my counterpart working on the larger task of tree removal, I knew it was my turn in the kitchen, and Salad Nicoise came out.

There is some variation in Salad Nicoise, but it is important to remember the key ingredients are fresh (not canned) tuna, hard boiled egg, marinated potatoes, and a vinaigrette dressing. After that, there are choices: green beans or asparagus, olives or capers, hard cheese or bleu cheese. I've also seen tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and even palm and artichoke hearts.

I went for a more fundamental approach. Honestly, I haven't had to cook in about five years, so I felt that simple would be better and did not try for anything fancy like mushrooms or artichoke. Also, there was no fresh tuna available. As the culinary odds are typically against me, I did not want to make matters worse with canned tuna, so I substituted another firm, somewhat oily fish in its place. In the end, my Salad Nicoise consisted of:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Asparagus sauteed in butter and lemon juice
  • Goya Spanish olives, sliced
  • Hard boiled egg, sliced
  • Red potatoes lightly marinaded in Champagne vinegar, sliced
  • Soft goat cheese crumbles
  • Oven baked trout
  • Vinaigrette consisting of lemon juice, grape seed oil, Champagne vinegar, basil, oregano, celery seed, garlic powder, white and red pepper, mustard seed, and a little honey

Overall, it was fairly well-received. Despite performing hard labor for several hours, Gareth is not one to drop a compliment where it doesn't belong. Each of the parts were well-executed, and the trout was a workable substitute for the tuna. Even so, I fell into the two traps cited above and received suggestions in avoiding them in the future:

A Little Sugar Goes a Long Way: Recommendations for improvement included repeated mention of this adage. The question is - how? What opportunities present itself in a salad? One suggestion was to use orange juice and sugar in the dressing instead of lemon juice and honey. A little red bell pepper also adds some sweetness, more so than the tomatoes I purchased and intended to add.

The Sum of the Parts Do Not Always Equal a Whole Without Proper Seasoning: While each of the required components was well prepared on its own, they did not have the required commonality to make them truly feel like a single dish. This is a more complicated issue for me as I thought my approach would address this. I used similar seasonings on everything - white pepper, Kosher salt, Champagne vinegar, lemon juice. I left the hard boiled egg and the marinated potatoes unseasoned, though. This may have left an unintended gap that prevented this dish from coming together. A little mustard seed and paprika on the eggs and some salt on the potatoes will definitely be in play the next go round.