Friday, 8 July 2011

Nicoise Salad: Get Your Ahi On.

This is a true showstopper of a meal, perfect for a summer evening. There are two keys to this meal, that cannot be compromised.  The first is the ahi tuna, also referred to as sushi-grade. Meaning it's the good stuff. You can buy it from the fishmonger (and the guy who sold me this fish was so adorably earnest and sooooo into fish it almost made me emotional) and eat it right out of your hands, raw as anything, if you wish. But that creates kind of a grotesque image. My point is you can't cheap out here, if you want to do something a bit fantastic. Having said that, this salad will totally work with a good quality canned tuna, preferably the kind packed in olive just won't be as good as with the fresh stuff. It'll be something different.

The second key to success in this endeavour is you need to get yourself a really big, shallow platter. It's truly a beautiful salad, and you need something nice to serve it on. I purchased my big blue platter at a specialty store near my house, called Dollarama. It was a dollar. It's plastic. But it's perfect for this. Have you ever been to the Dollarama at Queen and O'hara, in Parkdale? It kicks ass. It's pretty much where all my dishes are from. No joke.

Salad ingredients, getting ready for their big debut.
The big debut.
Okay, so there's a bit of a splurge on the tuna. But you won't actually need that much, because you slice the tuna quite thin and you can stretch it. Plus, there is a lot going on in this salad, including other substantial ingredients like potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. I used just over a pound of tuna for 3 people, and I had another full serving (at least) left over. So a pound for four people will be perfect, certainly.

Instead of using anchovies directly in the salad, I put a significant hit of anchovy paste in the dressing. If you have good anchovies by all means use them. I just wasn't sure if all my dinner guests would be down, so I snuck in that flavour via the dressing.
The other most excellent part of this dish, besides its killer flavour, is you can make all of the components ahead of time, so all you have to do once guests arrive is sear the tuna, which takes about five minutes, max.

Nicoise Salad

1 pound of ahi tuna
1 tbsp of oil, for frying tuna     (don't use olive oil for this, stick with canola, or soya, or even peanut would probably be a good option)
1 pound of small new potatoes, or cut up large new potatoes, red or white
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into quarters       (I hard-boil my eggs in the following fashion:  place eggs in cold water, turn the heat up to max, let them boil at full throttle for a minute or two, and then take them off the heat - leave them in that water, with a lid on the pot, for about 20 minutes - presto, perfect hard-boiled eggs with little fuss and no gross grey ring around the yolk that you get when you boil them too long)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 handfuls of snap peas, or asparagus, or green beans, cooked briefly      (cook them for only a couple of minutes, and then pull them off the heat and either run cold water over them or place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the vibrant green colour)
2 handfuls of olives of your choosing - black are more traditional, but who cares, use what kind you like
Arugula to lay everything on top of, and also to eat
Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:
juice of 1 lemon     (don't be weird and use the lemon juice from a bottle - just...don't)
1 tsp of dijon mustard
2 tbsp of chives, snipped or minced finely     (measuring chives seems ridiculous, just put a good palmful in there)
1-2 tbsp of anchovy paste     (this is an awesome ingredient, and provides body and a certain salty je ne sais quoi - oy - to dressings, don't be afraid to use a fairly heavy hand with it - I promise you it will not taste fishy in any way)
4-5 tbsp of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

To assemble the salad, lay the arugula down on your platter. As you can see from the photo, I tried to get a bit creative in the presentation, and I think, frankly, I did a pretty great job. I just sort of went around the perimeter of the platter and placed half of each ingredient across the platter from each other, saving the middle for the tuna, who should not share centre stage.

To sear the tuna, take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before go time, to let it warm up a bit. A cast iron pan is ideal for this but not necessary. Heat up the oil on max heat, and wait until the oil is hot hot hot before you put that tuna in there. The point is to get a really nice sear, and you can't do that if you jump the gun and put the tuna in a medium-hot pan. Salt and pepper both sides of your tuna. Once it's in the pan, leave it be for about three minutes or so. I think an overcooked piece of tuna is a heinous thing, so really watch your timing here. Flip her over, and leave it for another two minutes, max. Take it off the heat, wait a few minutes, and slice her up thinly. It should be bright pink and basically raw in the middle, with a nice sear on both sides.

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small jar and shake it up. Then, and this is an important, often ignored step, taste it. It's really quite amazing what you can learn if you just taste things! Add more lemon if it needs brightening, more anchovy paste if you want the flavour to be deeper, more oil if it needs to loosen up a bit.

Lay your tuna on the arugula in the middle of the platter, and pour the dressing over the tuna and all of the other ingredients. Provide a pair of tongs, and let the guests serve themselves. This is really a stunner, and so low-maintenance if you have some peeps over.

Seriously, how hot does that tuna look.

1 comment:

  1. This looks incredible! I want to come to one of these summer dinner parties!