Salade niçoise originated in the French city of Nice, on the Mediterranean coast. Traditionally made of tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives and anchovies, dressed with olive oil, it has been popular worldwide since the early 20th century. The salad has been prepared and discussed by many well-known chefs including Delia Smith, who has called it “one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented”,[a] and Gordon Ramsay, who has said that “it must be the finest summer salad of all.”
Freshly cooked or canned tuna may be included, and the salad may also contain raw red peppers, shallots, artichoke hearts and other seasonal raw vegetables. Raw green beans harvested in the spring, when they are still young and crisp, may also be added. For decades, there has been significant disagreement between traditionalists and innovators regarding which ingredients should and should not be included in a salade niçoise. According to traditionalists, it should not contain cooked vegetables, but cooked green beans and potatoes are commonly served in variations of the salad that are popular around the world.
Traditional recipe and its defenders
The version known in Nice in the late 19th century was a basic combination of tomatoes, anchovies and olive oil, described as “simple food for poor people”. Over time, other fresh and mostly raw ingredients were added to the salad as served in Nice. A 1903 recipe by Henri Heyraud in a book called La Cuisine à Nice included tomatoes, anchovies, artichokes, olive oil, red peppers and black olives, but excluded tuna and lettuce. The dressing included olive oil, vinegar, mustard and fines herbes.
Former Nice mayor and cookbook author Jacques Médecin was a strict salad traditionalist. His 1972 cookbook Cuisine Nicoise: Recipes from a Mediterranean Kitchen called for the salad to be served in a wooden bowl rubbed with garlic, and excluded boiled vegetables: “never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salade niçoise.” Médecin wrote that the salad should be made “predominately of tomatoes” which should be “salted three times and moistened with olive oil”. Hard-boiled eggs were added, and either anchovies or canned tuna, but not both. He incorporated raw vegetables such as cucumbers, purple artichokes, green peppers, fava beans, spring onions, black olives, basil and garlic, but no lettuce or vinegar. According to Rowley Leigh, Médecin believed that salade niçoise “was a product of the sun and had to be vibrant with the crisp, sweet flavours of the vegetables of the Midi.” Médecin advocated presenting the dish as a composed salad,[b] commenting, “As the various ingredients that go into salade niçoise are of bright and contrasting colours, they can be arranged most decoratively in the salad bowl.”
An organization called Cercle de la Capelina d’Or, led for many years by Renée Graglia until her death in 2013, continues to protest against deviation from traditional local recipes. The group, which certifies restaurants in Nice, sticks with Médecin’s standards. They reject commonly included ingredients such as green beans and potatoes, as well as innovations such as including sweetcorn, mayonnaise, shallots and lemon.
The French Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze posted a salade niçoise recipe on Facebook in 2016 which included cooked potatoes and green beans. According to the journalist Mathilde Frénois, the reaction on Facebook was quick and hostile from the “purists”. Darroze’s version was called “a massacre of the recipe”, a “sacrilege”, and a violation of the “ancestral traditions” of the salad. She was warned that it is “dangerous to innovate”.
- “This is one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented. Slick restaurants often attempt to do trendy versions with salmon, char-grilled tuna and the like, but the original reigns supreme. In Provence lettuce was sometimes used, sometimes not, but I now like to abandon the lettuce in favour of a few rocket leaves.”
- A composed salad is deliberately laid out, as opposed to being tossed in a bowl.