The Controversial Salade Niçoise

I have only ever encountered this dish recently when my French beau decided that it would be a great dish to prepare for date night at home. Being with a Frenchman has taught me to be very very particular about where ingredients are sourced and the way meals are prepared and cooked. (I’d be lying if I said that most of the French aren’t the pickiest eaters I know. You know it too!) Naturally, the easiest way for me to do this on my own was for him to recommend a recipe for me to follow whilst consulting various resources online.

And so it begins.

Just a quick Google of “salade niçoise” and you’ll end up encountering a plethora of articles that fall under any of the following : (a) argumentative dicussions on which salade niçoise is truly niçoise and authentic, (b) the spread of this dish and its variations–to which the people would express highly strong opinions on what should and should not go in the dish, (c) Julia Child’s Americanization of the salad with her addition of boiled potatoes–to the “horror” of some but also a “delight” and (d) shrugged off remarks of people who are tired of arguing, they just prefer to “use everything” in complete non-chalance.

There’s an entire controversy surrounding a simple salad and believe it or not, it has gone lengths.

But I progress too soon; let me first introduce the dish to get our 101 in order.

Salade niçoise correctly pronounced as [niˈswaz], is a salad that originated in Nice, a French city which resides on the Mediterranean and within the region of Provence. It is a delicious and refreshing salad in which fresh produce are mixed in with Provencal seasonings. It is meant to be “a product of the sun and had to be vibrant with the crisp, sweet flavours of the vegetables of the Midi“.

Staying true to its Nice origin, the authentic recipe is said to only include tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, olives, anchovies and a simple olive oil, basil and garlic seasoning. Canned tuna, as a replacement to anchovies, is also allowed but adding grilled or seared tuna will render it “unacceptable”.

The main cause for debate by traditionalists is really the issue of cooked vs. raw vegetables. Strongly opposing the idea of having cooked/boiled produce in the dish is Nice’s former city mayor (with a rather crazy political life), Jacques Médecin. He was so appalled by how people have strayed away from the “original” dish that it became one of his main inspirations for writing La Cuisine du Comte de Nice, first published in 1972 and later translated to English: Cuisine Niçoise: Recipes from a Mediterranean Kitchen by 1983. To quote:

…with the exception of two or three restaurants in Nice, one can no longer eat, outside the parlors of the Nicois, the authentic cuisine Nicoise. Horrified, I have seen the remains of other people’s meals being served under the name salade Nicoise. What crimes have been committed in the name of this pure, fresh salad. . . !
Jacques Médecin

Passionate, authoritive and imperious– the overall tone Médecin brought throught out his book. You have to hand it to a man who felt it was absolutely necessary to impose the authenticity. How can you argue when he says:

”…never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salade niçoise.”
Jacques Médecin

In absolute consideration not to be another pain to the French traditionalists and to Jacques Médecin, himself, I decided it was best to follow his version of the dish with the endearing David Lebovitz as my guide. If you’re keen on recreating the dish (as seen on the cover photo of this post), you may hop on over to his website.

Despite the omission of fava beans, cucumber and lettuce–stuff I couldn’t find in our fridge the night I made this– the dish turned out pretty great.

Would I recommend this particular version?

As the first-timer, yes.

But if you’re feeling all experimental, feel free to go with what your taste buds tell you. There’s a whole list of variations for you to try and because food is universal, but always forever adapting to change, no one will REALLY put you at the stake for trying something different.

Have a go at it and let me know which version you’ve tried!

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