Many of the recipes that we feature on The Vintage Chef are the subject of some differences of opinion. Whenever you decide to make a dish with a convoluted history, you are making choices about which elements you include, which techniques you follow, and which you don’t. And that’s inevitable when we’re dealing with old dishes that have a history, and have endured adaptation, adoption, fiddling and bastardisation. But today’s dish takes it several steps further.
Niçoise salad has its own organisation, Cercle de la Capelina d’Or, which protests against inauthentic versions. It focuses its energies on the twin scourges of boiled potatoes and cooked green beans.
The salad started as a peasant dish in Nice in the late 19th century, and bore scant resemblance to what we now think of as a niçoise salad: simply tomatoes, anchovies and olive oil. Other ingredients were added as time went on: Henry Heyraud’s recipe in 1903 included tomatoes, anchovies, artichokes, olive oil, red peppers and black olives, but there was no sign of the now textbook tuna and lettuce.
But I’m going to be brave. I am deviating somewhat (with a little fear of repercussions from the people of Nice), although only to include ingredients which, if not accepted by the locals, have become otherwise common components. Cooked potatoes and green beans caused outrage when Helene Darroze, head chef at The Connaught, used them in a recipe, but I figure if Darroze uses them, I’m in good company. And because the waxy, almost creamy potatoes work so well with the sharp, mustardy vinaigrette, and the bite of the green beans provide a counterpoint to the soft eggs and silky tuna, it seems a shame to be cowed into giving them a miss.
Canned tuna is the classic – and a delicious – choice, but I’ve fancied this up a bit with thinly-sliced tuna steak. I always find it a bit nerve-wracking cooking expensive meat and fish over high heat, preferring to stew or braise, where there is little risk of getting it wrong. But I promise, cooking this tuna steak is so very simple: for a rare steak with seared sides, rub oil and salt into each side of the steak, heat a heavy-bottomed pan until hot, and then place the tuna steak on it for 60-90 seconds before turning and cooking for another 60-90 seconds, and finally resting for five minutes.
Makes: Serves two
Takes: 20 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
250g tuna steak
½ tablespoon olive oil
150g black olives, pitted
400g new potatoes
150g green beans
1 small butter lettuce
½ teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon red wine vinegar
1. First, put a large pan of water onto boil. When it is at a rolling boil, add the eggs and boil for exactly seven minutes, before removing the eggs and placing them in cold water. Add the new potatoes to the boiling water and cook for 15 minutes until, when speared with a knife, they drop off the knife back into the water. Lift the potatoes from the water into a colander and leave to steam. Finally, top and tail the green beans, and add them to the boiling water and cook for exactly two minutes. Remove and plunge into cold water, before draining in a colander.
2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium-high flame. Rub both sides of the steak with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place the tuna steak in the pan and cook for 60-90 seconds. Carefully turn the steak and cook the other side for the same amount of time. Remove, sprinkle with black pepper, and leave to rest while you assemble the salad.
3. Place a layer of lettuce on the plate. Distribute anchovies and black olives between plates. Slice potatoes in half and divide them and the green beans between plates. Peel the eggs, cut into quarters and divide between plates.
4. Slice the tuna steak finely on a diagonal and top the dishes with the fish. Whisk the olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and salt together, and dress the dishes with this dressing.