I can honestly say that if I had to choose one dish that has travelled all over the world with me and one that I have put together on all of my menus, that one dish would be a Niçoise salad. I still put it on my menus today at French Saloon as I think it’s a perfect salad for Australian palates: essentially it’s a salad that lends itself to sunshine, and like the area of Nice in France from which it gets its name, Australia has all the ingredients to make a great Niçoise salad.
As arguments rage about the correct ingredients for a Niçoise, mine always includes tomatoes, eggs, olives, anchovies, red onion, potatoes, green beans, red peppers and basil, with either tuna or salmon (depending on the occasion), those being the dish’s main source of non-vegetarian protein.
In some circles the use of salmon is very much frowned upon, as is using anything other than tinned tuna, but as my chef’s creative mind has the ingredients in front of me I like to use them in all sorts of different ways, but with love, and hope that the purists would more or less agree with me, even though I know I’m taking liberties with their ideal.
With such a wonderful array of great produce in Australia I love using lots of different types of tomatoes, local olives always brined and pitted, anchovies – whilst one of my favourite ingredients, I love using Ortiz from Spain; a small amount of red onion and the same amount of sliced red pepper. I vary my use of the eggs and potatoes too, as just recently instead of serving them whole I have been thinly slicing the potatoes and serving them almost crisp-like and scattering the cooked eggs over the salad, which when mixed with the local extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, forms the dressing.
With the fish – and it has always been fish, I like to use salmon or tuna that I can flake through the rest of the ingredients and combine them all into one large composite salad so that when everything is mixed together you get a little of everything on your fork with all the flavours melding nicely.
For added flavours I like to rub the plate or bowl I am using with a garlic clove and I always season with flaked salt and ground white pepper at the last minute along with the extra virgin olive oil and of course, adding basil if available which can be green or purple but always as fresh as possible.
The Niçoise salad never goes out of style as it’s a salad that celebrates all the great produce we have in Australia, and rather than it being a recipe in a cook book, to me it’s more of a market list of really great produce and a celebration of sunshine.