Niçoise Redux

Sometimes a salad is just so good you have to blog about it twice. And so, my friends, I invite you to join me on a virtual journey back to the French Riviera as we revisit the Niçoise, deconstructed and put back together.

Deconstructed Niçoise

I’ve been known to grumble on this blog about food trends. I never want to see another red velvet cupcake or Korean beef taco again. One trend that has had enduring staying power in a variety of guises is seared ahi. Now I’ll admit, food trends often become food trends — and the best remain food trends — because they taste good. Such is it with seared ahi. My main beef — er, tuna — with seared ahi is that enterprising cooks everywhere were putting what was essentially a Japanese food item on top of everything — Caesar salads, pastas, open-face sandwiches. A Mexican chef might be searing it with cumin and stuffing it in tacos, while next door the guy at the Thai restaurant was crusting it in peanuts and draping it over pad thai.

So with friends coming over, faced with a nice chunk of pearlescent pink ahi and not wanting to make sashimi, what was I to do? I began scouring the fridge for inspiration, and my eyes set upon a jar of brined olives sitting next to a jar of anchovies. Niçoise.

Now oftentimes I’ve seen Niçoise salads on menus that were made with seared ahi. And I’ve always scoffed. But what if I approached it less as a salad, and more as a main course composed of some of the key flavors of the Niçoise?

The result — a small tower of poached potato, farm egg, briny olives, salty oil anchovy, lemon tapenade, crisped garlic and, yes, seared ahi — was a highly successful dish that straddled the demilitarized zone between salad and entree. “Every bite is different,” our friends reflected happily.

So next time you’ve got a cube of ahi, work boldly and without fear — and sear, baby, sear!

*   *   *

Deconstructed Niçoise
serves 4

10 oz. very fresh ahi tuna (or other sashimi-grade tuna)
8 fingerling or small “new” potatoes
1 medium tomato, cut into 8 wedges
8 oil-cured anchovies
4 fresh eggs
3/4 cup pitted olives (kalamata or Niçoise, preferably)
1/2 cup microgreens
1 large clove garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
seasoned rice wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
vegetable oil

Pre-prep: Boil the eggs 10 minutes until hard cooked. Remove and cool in ice water, then peel and cut into quarters. Boil potatoes for 10 minutes, remove and cool. And cut in half. To make the crispy garlic, slice the clove as thinly as possible lengthwise. Heat 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a very small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and reduce heat to low, cook about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until all slices are golden. With a fork or slotted spoon, remove garlic to a paper towel to drain.

Sear your ahi. Dust fish lightly with ground pepper. Heat 1 tsp. vegetable oil over high heat in a nonstick pan until it begins to smoke. Add ahi and quickly sear on each side — about 10 seconds per side. Remove from heat, let cool. And then with your sharpest knife, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. (Shoot for 12 or so slices.)

Make your vinaigrette: finely mince three olives or mash them in a mortar and pestle until you’ve got a puree. Whisk in juice of 1/2 lemon. Then slowly drizzle in about 3 tbsp. olive oil, whisking vigorously to create an emulsion.

Toss the microgreens lightly with a spritz of rice wine vinegar. Begin composing the salad: Place 4 pieces of potato at the bottom, and then drape ahi on top of and around the potatoes. Carefully continue, stacking on each plate: two boiled egg quarters, two segments of tomato, and three or four olives. Wrap two anchovies carefully around each “tower”, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Top each with a small handful of microgreens, and spoon a teaspoon of vinaigrette around the bottom of each “salad”. Serve.

Wine suggestion: a dry champagne or crisp rosé.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Monica
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 00:46:23

    Mmmmmm! Now that sounds and looks good! I think I would love this version.

    Reply

  2. Thelma Lee
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 01:00:22

    YUM! Hate the stuff made with canned tuna. Yay for Sean!

    Reply

  3. mom
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 01:03:09

    One of my pet peeves is a food writer up here who says things like marbled beef, preferably grass fed……garlic mayonnaise, preferably homemade….i/2 lemon, preferably Meyer etc. I was reminded of this when your recipe said 4 fresh eggs. Would anyone actually use rotten or old eggs? I suppose you meant from Elsie and Rebecca out there in the yard. Thank you for not saying it.

    Reply

  4. Lisa Gaskin
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 01:31:14

    ahahaha…Mom! What about Ahi being one of Monterey Aquarium’s forbidden fish?

    Reply

  5. paul
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 03:12:12

    Bit a hole in my screen where the picture was. You owe me a new MacBook Pro.

    Reply

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