The classic Niçoise Salad has probably the most foodie debates worldwide over its ingredients - even amongst the French! Discover the traditional ingredients of this French salad from Nice. The result is a quicker preparation time of only 30 minutes.
Classic Niçoise Salad
The Niçoise salad debate centers around the addition of non-traditional ingredients. The classic version typically includes tuna, but popular extras are not considered part of the original recipe. Determining the authentic ingredients of a Niçoise salad is a question that even the French struggle with.
Even while I studied in Nice for two summers, I found variations in the salad's ingredients across various restaurants! So let's discover more about this - it's fascinating.
The correct pronunciation is 'Salade Niçoise' (pronounced 'Nee-swau-ze' or 'Nisuaz'). There's an 'E' at the end, since 'salade' in French is feminine.
I have often heard non-French chefs outside of France pronounce this salad as Niçois ('Nee-swah'). Although it doesn't seem that different, it's a mistake that makes the French shudder if written or spoken incorrectly.
What's the Meaning of Niçoise or 'à la Niçoise'?
In French food, Niçoise is a culinary term to designate the type of regional speciality around Nice.
On menus, if a fish dish is named 'à la Niçoise', grilled fish - such as sole, rouget/red mullet - is usually served with chopped tomatoes, anchovy fillets and olives.
As this salad is originally from the town of Nice in southern France, in French it's called Salade Niçoise, meaning 'Salad from Nice'.
So from southern France, which is right on the Mediterranean coast, it will contain only local, fresh and seasonal ingredients. That's mainly tomatoes, tuna and/or anchovies, garlic, basil, olives and olive oil.
The Traditional Niçoise Salad - Some History
Even Asterix spells out the speciality of Nice salad's 'rules' in popular cartoon form to educate French kids their heritage or patrimoine!
La spécialité de Nice : La Salade Niçoise.'Le Tour de Gaule d'Astérix' in Nice (Nicae) 5th Album of 'Des Aventures d'Asterix', 1965
The rules: the salad never contains cooked vegetables. It's made of tomatoes, artichokes, olives de Nice, little fève beans, hard boiled egg, spring onion and anchovies.
It wasn't until the 1970s that the salad was officially taken in hand by the ex-mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin, a food enthusiast and ambassador for rekindling the culinary classics of the city.
Together with starred chef and Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Jacques Maximin (10 years chef at the famous Negresco Hotel and restaurant owner in Nice), they collaborated in 1981 to publish the Niçoise salad's genuine local recipe in the book's second edition, 'La Cuisine du Comté de Nice'.
The word was out how to do it properly rather than rely on Asterix.
The Classic Ingredients from Nice
Trish Deseine also explains the real Niçoise ingredients beautifully in her book, Nobody Does it Better (2007), under the chapter title, 'The French Home Cook Knows her Classics'. Like Gaudry, Jacques Médecin and Jacques Maximin, they all precise the following, genuine ingredients.
The classic Niçoise Salad from Nice is composed of the following traditional ingredients with these typical Mediterranean flavours:
- bell peppers
- spring onions, cebettes or shallot
- olives from Nice - these are the little black olives which are a speciality of Nice
- hard boiled eggs
- tuna (in brine) and/or anchovies
- small artichoke hearts or peeled beans ('fevettes'), when in season
- basil - fresh basil leaves, not the dried
- olive oil - with a touch of salt and pepper
- fresh garlic - this is an important ingredient of the Mediterranean and adds that typical touch of spice and flavour. Although served raw, it is finely chopped or crushed to a paste to add to the sauce. Please use a fresh garlic clove and never the dried in powdered form. The taste is not at all the same.
- salad leaves (preferably rocket/arugula, mesclun, pourpier). Even this addition is debatable. It's mixed!
Escoffier, Green Beans and Potatoes
This is where the confusion begins - even in France! Countless Niçoise salad recipes include both cooked green beans and potatoes plus a vinegar and oil dressing. Even Auguste Escoffier's version includes them. So, who's right and who's wrong?
French food journalist, François-Regis Gaudry already laid down much of the historical groundwork around Nice in 2016. In his incredible gourmet French masterpiece, 'On va déguster la France' (2021), 'la salada nissarda' or Salade Niçoise was a popular recipe characterised by Auguste Escoffier.
Escoffier has perhaps been the culprit of the circulating mixed up ideas. In my copy in French of Escoffier's bible of French cuisine, le Guide Culinaire, he precises:
In equal quantities: green beans and potatoes cut into pieces, small tomatoes quartered. Composed decor of capers, olives and anchovy fillets. Serve with oil and vinegar.Auguste Escoffier, le Guide Culinaire (1903) on Salade Niçoise
Was it that Escoffier was promoting tinned produce such as green beans and potatoes? At the time, he had called for the need to create canning factories in France to help for future war efforts (in his memoires on feeding soldiers, digital library, Bibliothèque Nationale de France) and in his campaigns to stop food waste.
Even French Chefs Confuse the Classic!
Even top chefs often add at least one of them - or all three! French starred chef, Hélène Darroze created such a French culinary scandale with her salad in 2016 that it's still a topic of dispute on social media.
Chef Philippe Etchebest literally creates a new dish: he adds cooked, fried potatoes then cooks and torches the peppers. To top that, he mixes the tuna and olives to make a tapenade topping. Lovely - but imagine what the purists are saying!
Certain ingredients like cooked green beans, potatoes, mustard, vinegar, honey, capers, rice and sweetcorn should not be included in an authentic Niçoise salad. Confirmed by the French culinary dictionaries - even Asterix!
Most importantly, no vegetable is cooked.
At a pinch, you could add a few chopped fresh radishes - I only live in Paris, which isn't Nice (I jest).
What are Niçoise Olives?
Niçoise olives are small, deep violet in colour, and have a strong, salty taste with a slight nuttiness. As they're so small, they come with their stones; you will never find them stoned ('dénoyautées' in French).
They're one of the produce stars of the south and, each time we visit my French parents-in-law in Provence, a small bag of them from the market in Apt adds the typical punch for this salad.
Les olives de Nice have their own quality status of AOP (Appellation d'Origines Protégées). So when buying them, ensure they are from a reputable source from the region without a lot of ingredients mentioned on the label.
How to Prepare a Traditional Niçoise Salad
To prepare a classic Niçoise salad, first hard boil the eggs. In the printable recipe below, I only use 2 for 4 people but if you prefer, aim for an egg per person.
How to Cook Hard Boil Eggs to Perfection
Use the freshest, organic eggs you can find. Boil the eggs for 10-15 minutes, depending on their temperature.
If eggs are at room temperature, cook for 10 minutes in simmering water to get the perfect hard boiled egg. For chilled eggs out of the fridge, cook for no longer than 15 minutes. The cooked egg yolks should remain fluffy and maintain their lovely yellow colour.
Cooking any longer will result in rubbery eggs. Even worse, their yellow colour will fade. The worst is when they turn a little grey and start to smell of sulphur - a sure sign that they are well overcooked.
Assemble all ingredients. As we want to taste the typical flavours of the Mediterranean, use the freshest produce you can find in season. This includes vine tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), fresh basil and garlic.
Here I used fresh anchovies in oil, which are not as strong as regular tinned or bottled anchovies conserved in salt (that's why I use more). Use a good quality brand of anchovies and, if stored in the fridge, remove them 20 minutes before to enjoy them at their best.
Prepare the cucumber by cutting it vertically in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon (even better, use a grapefruit knife that's serrated). Then chop into thin slices.
Chop all the remaining ingredients and assemble on a large serving plate.
Classic Niçoise Salad Dressing
The dressing is poured over the salad, rather than tossed in it. The classic is simple: made with good quality, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, lemon juice (optional) and fleur de sel or sea salt.
Worried about adding raw garlic on a date night? To make a lighter version, first rub the garlic clove liberally around the serving dish (says chef Jacques Maximin and Médecin).
Otherwise, finely chop the garlic and crush it further with the blade of the knife. I personally love garlic so much, I just chop it finely and serve. Please don't use powdered garlic; the taste is nasty and nothing like the real flavours of the Mediterranean.
How to Serve
The salad (salade composée) should normally be composed on the plate, with each ingredient arranged separately. Above, you'll see I mixed them; the jumbled approach resembles my way of thinking!
So, without any extra cooked vegetables, this classic Niçoise salad is much quicker to prepare, ready in just 30 minutes. So use the extra time, 'wine down'; serve with a good crusty baguette, a chilled glass of Rosé de Provence and bring on the sunshine.
- 2 eggs organic (to be hard boiled)
- 6 vine tomatoes quartered
- 150 g (regular tin) tinned tuna in brine or oil
- 8 anchovy fillets (see notes)
- ½ cucumber peeled, seeds removed and chopped
- salad leaves Mesclun or rocket (arugula)
- 1 green or red pepper deseeded and chopped
- 100 g black Niçoise olives (includes stone)
- 1 spring onion or shallot finely chopped
- 6 small violet artichokes (if in season) raw and sliced (or small raw fève beans)
- 4 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 clove garlic chopped then crushed to a pulp
- 12 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
- fleur de sel sea salt Maldon salt flakes or Celtic salt
- pepper freshly milled
- First prepare the hard boiled eggs. Cook room temperature eggs for 10 minutes in simmering water. (If chilled eggs out of the fridge, cook for no longer than 15 minutes.) Leave to cool by plunging in cold water then peel shells while water still warm. Cut each in half.
- Cut the tomatoes into quarters and salt slightly. Peel and halve the cucumber vertically, scoop out the seeds and slice finely. Chop the other fresh vegetables. Either assemble all ingredients mixed or compose an arrangement by each ingredient on the plate.
- Chop the garlic finely then, using a sharp knife, crush or press to a pulp. Add to a bowl of olive oil, stir in the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad.
A Note on IngredientsUse the best quality of fresh ingredients you can and find. Only the eggs are cooked in this salad (hard boiled). Tuna fish is often replaced by anchovies and vice versa. Small artichokes are often replaced by fresh fevettes (little beans) but both ingredients are only used when in season.
Worried about the raw garlic? Instead rub the garlic clove on the presentation plate before dressing. Depending on the quality of tomatoes, these are often peeled (drop in boiling water for a minute first to peel) or replaced by cherry tomatoes. Each portion provides 14g of protein.