Masterclass: How to make perfect tuna nicoise salad

Jill Dupleix's tuna salad nicoise.
Jill Dupleix's tuna salad nicoise. Photo: William Meppem

 

Crisp seasonal vegetables, just-seared tuna and creamy eggs in a robust dressing with salty anchovies, capers, olives and greens is a Provencal playlist you can shuffle all summer long.

​INGREDIENTS

  • 600g thick tuna steaks
  • 400g green beans, topped but not tailed
  • 8 small kipfler or red-skinned potatoes
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • 400g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g watercress sprigs
  • 8 small radishes, halved or quartered
  • 200g mixed black olives
  • ½ red onion, finely sliced
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tbsp salted capers, rinsed
  • handful of basil leaves

Marinade

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp sea salt flakes

Dressing

  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

METHOD

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  1. To make the marinade, gently heat the oil, garlic, fennel seeds and salt in a frypan over low heat for 2 minutes until fragrant, then set aside to cool. Coat the tuna steaks in the marinade and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
     
  2. Cook the green beans in a pot of simmering salted water for 2 minutes, then scoop them out and refresh in cold water. Add the potatoes to the pot and simmer until tender, about 18 minutes. Drain and cut in half or into rounds.
     
  3. Cook eggs in boiling water for 6 minutes, then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain, peel and cut in half. Cut the tomatoes in half and season with salt.
     
  4. To cook the tuna, heat the olive oil in a frypan over high heat, and sear the steaks for 60 seconds on each side, leaving the middle pink. Set aside to rest.
     
  5. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
     
  6. To serve, lightly coat the watercress in half the dressing, and arrange on four dinner plates. Slice the tuna and arrange on plates with green beans, potato, egg, tomato and radish, keeping an eye on colour and contrast. Tuck in the olives, onion, anchovy, capers and basil leaves. Drizzle with remaining dressing before serving.

Serves 4

Tips

  • Arrange salty ingredients near bland ones, so anchovies and olives with eggs and potatoes.
  • Never toss a salad nicoise – ingredients should be composed with an eye for colour and contrast.
  • Cook the beans, eggs and potatoes ahead, but don't refrigerate, which kills the flavour stone-cold dead.

Mix it up

The key ingredients of tuna, egg, potato and tomato go so well together you can do anything with them.

  • Pile salad nicoise into a hollowed-out baguette, wrap tightly and take on a picnic.
     
  • Make a stack of nicoise burgers, with grilled tuna, oven-roasted tomatoes, fried eggs, pickles and mayo.
     
  • Finely dice sashimi-grade tuna into tuna tartare, and mix with finely diced tomato, hard-boiled egg, gherkin, basil, capers and Dijon mustard to serve with crisp toasts.
     
  • Add avocado halves, red or yellow capsicum, sweetcorn, artichoke hearts, jalapenos or a bowl of garlicky aioli; just not all of them. (Any more than six main ingredients and the plot will be lost.)
     
  • By all means, swap fresh tuna for canned – it's delicious. Try slow-cooking your own fresh tuna in olive oil, or swap it out for ocean trout, rare beef or cold roast chicken.
     
  • Make like Adam Liaw and swap tuna for roast chicken.
     
  • Salad nicoise goes very well with a glass of chilled rosé.