If you're looking for an extremely high flavor return on minimal effort for lunch or dinner, you can't beat Salade Niçoise, a classic French Mediterranean dish.
And you can't get a more reliable recipe for a Classic Salade Niçoise than the one straight from the culinary icon who introduced so many Americans to French cuisine, Julia Child.
What is Salade Niçoise | Julia Child's Salade Niçoise | Ingredients Substitutions | Niçoise Salad Variations | Best Kind of Tuna and Anchovies | Tools and Equipment | Best Wine Pairing | Taste of Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara Wines | Recipe
What is Salade Niçoise
"Salade Niçoise" is the fancy French way of saying "Niçoise Salad," which is a fancy half-French way of referring to what is essentially a tuna salad. The dish hails from France and specifically from the city of Nice, sounds like "niece," located on the French coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
I've always known Niçoise to famously showcase the nutrient-packed ingredients of the Mediterranean: tuna, eggs, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and olives. And in general, those components are undisputed.
In general. Like many classic recipes, Niçoise salad has an unclear origin and many, sometimes aggressive, opinions about what constitutes an authentic version of this composed salad. Some Niçoise purists argue that green beans and potatoes, because they are cooked, should not be included with a Niçoise salad. Other authorities claim a true Niçoise would feature either anchovies or tuna, but not both. Does the salad actually have any lettuce at all? That too is not totally clear.
One thing that is certain is that no matter how Salade Niçoise is made, it's always fast, fresh, and full of bright, colorful, health-promoting vegetables.
What You Need to Make Julia Child's Salade Niçoise
Julia Child calls for the usual ingredients for what she subtitles a "Mediterranean Combination Salad" in her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Though it's not listed in her recipe, you probably need a patio, and ocean view, and a glass of rosé, too. Grab these ingredients, all of which you either have in your pantry already, or are pretty easy to find:
- canned tuna
- anchovy filets
- Boston lettuce - which we substitute out
- fresh green herbs
- green beans - which we modify
- small potatoes - which we replace
Ingredients Substitutions for Salade Niçoise
We're using Julia Child's recipe as a guide, then making the following modifications inspired by what's fresh at California farmers' markets. Mostly, we're just trying not to turn on the stove so we're replacing some of the work of cooked ingredients like the green beans and potatoes with fast, fresh ones.
- Romaine lettuce, which has a more satisfying crunch than soft, tender Boston lettuce
- fresh sugar snap peas instead of cooked green beans
- fresh radishes instead of boiled potatoes
- garlic added to the vinaigrette
Think of Salade Niçoise, and Julia's version specifically, as a template and then let the season and your senses fill in the details. Some other ingredients we substitute or add to the bowl when the spirit moves us are:
- arugula and frisee as the salad "greens"
- beets, fresh sliced, or roasted and served along with the potatoes
- fennel, shaved super thin if fresh, or roasted
- red onions, sliced razor-thin sliced
- avocado because we're in California!
- capers to add even more salty umami with the olives
If you want to get really crazy, and I know you do, you can swap out the canned tuna for seared fresh tuna or even a different fish entirely like salmon. Crazy.
Niçoise Salad Variations You Must Try
Salade Niçoise isn't the only dish that's associated with the French side of the Mediterranean, but it's the one that I make most often here, with variations based on whatever seems right at the time. Try these variations:
- Salmon Niçoise Salad - featuring omega-3 rich salmon in place of the tuna
- Tofu Niçoise Salad - replacing tuna with roasted tofu. To make a fully plant-based vegan version of this salad, skip the anchovies, and use a vegan "fish sauce" or soy sauce for the marinade
- Tuna Niçoise Quinoa Salad - all the good things from a Nicoise salad, chopped up and tossed with quinoa to make a solid weekday meal in a bowl.
What are the Best Tuna and Anchovies for Niçoise Salad?
Best Tuna for Niçoise salad. For a recipe like this in which the tuna is served almost as is, and not mixed with a strong sauce like mayonnaise, get the kind of tuna that is packed in jars as large pieces and flakes apart easily. I almost always use this brand of oil-packed tuna in jars that's available in most grocery stores, including Whole Foods. On the rare occasion I win the megamillions, I will spring for tuna from this Spanish brand that has some of the most insanely delicious preserved fish I've ever tasted. It is actually the one I used in the photos above.
Fresh Tuna for Nicoise salad. Seared fresh tuna has made its way on to restaurant menus, but is not traditional. However, I am all for bucking tradition for innovation so if you want to do fresh tuna, hit your fishmonger (I go to Santa Monica Seafood). Buy about 4 ounces per serving, since the tuna is part of a larger dish, not a main course by itself. Like the canned tuna, keep the seasoning simple with just salt, maybe pepper if you're into that, and olive oil.
Best anchovies for Niçoise salad? Those flat 2- to 3-ounce cans of anchovies are fine when used as flavoring ingredients, i.e. blended into a dressing or melted into a sauce. However, when the anchovy will be served whole, look for a high quality product, usually packed in jars. This is my go-to brand of anchovies, once only found in specialty and gourmet food stores. They are now available at Whole Foods.
Tools and Equipment
Julia actually specifies "a salad bowl" in her recipe, which is so awesome and specific and totally hilarious. These are a few additional tools you may need to make Salade Niçoise, though I am of the unwavering belief that you absolutely can get by in the kitchen with no tools other than a dead sharp knife and a stable cutting board.
- wooden bowl for salad, pictured
- chef's knife I use every single day
- cutting board that is probably the only "tool" I leave out permanently on the counter
- salad spinner - I absolutely cannot live without this. I haaaaate wet drippy greens.
- fruit and vegetable wash
- mini whisk for dressing
- mini blender for dressing (if you want to emulsify it to make it creamy)
What Wine Goes with Niçoise Salad?
When it comes to wine for Salade Niçoise, it's less about an exact flavor pairing because there are so many varying flavors in the dish, and more about a vibe pairing. Sitting on a patio overlooking the ocean, late afternoon, late summer... doesn't that feel like a bottle of ice cold rosé? If you're on the French Riviera, it would be a Provençal rosé. But since we're on the American Riviera, the perfect wine is a Santa Barbara rosé! Here are a couple of picks:
- Foxen Rosé of Pinot Noir (pictured). organically farmed pinot noir from the Santa Maria Valley, rich and fun, just like us
- Margerum Riviera Rosé. light, tastes like walking into the ocean up to your knees
- Stolpman "Love You Bunches" (pictured) bright, highly drinkable blend of grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah
Pairing wine with any salad usually depends first and foremost on the dressing. Vinaigrettes, like the lemon or red wine vinaigrette on this Salade Niçoise, call for a tart wine to stand up to the acid of the dressing. Sauvignon Blanc, like rosé, fits the bill here, especially one that has undertones of citrus. You probably won't go wrong pulling from the tightly curated list of wineries from Taste of Santa Barbara.
If, unlike David Rose, you only drink red wine, then a very light red like Pinot Noir or Gamay will work. Light red wines work with dishes where a strong fish, like the tuna here, is the flavor anchor.
When in Doubt, Get the Bubbles Out
Like I always say, sparkling wine works in every situation. Highly reliable recommendation from KC of G-FreeFoodie: Goat Bubbles from Flying Goat Cellars in Lompoc, Santa Barbara County.
Taste of Santa Barbara
Inspiration to post this Salade Niçoise recipe came from a recent trip back to Santa Barbara to check out the first of the now annual Taste of Santa Barbara presented by the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience in partnership with the Julia Child Foundation. Taste of Santa Barbara is a multi-day event that highlights the best of the best that Santa Barbara has to offer in agriculture, artisans, food, and wine.
The combination of watching a screening of the Julia Child documentary Julia (streaming on Prime video), strolling the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market, and just being in the area that's literally called the "American Riviera" because of its similarities to the French Riviera, couldn't have been better motivation to haul out my copy of Julia's cookbook and revisit one of my all-time favorite French dishes.
Taste of Santa Barbara Wines
A dozen wineries presented during the closing event, Taste of Santa Barbara Wines.
- Alma Rosa Winery in the Sta Rita Hills with Samra Morris, winemaker
- Amevive organic wines made by Alice Anderson owner/winemaker
- Brander Vineyard and Winery Bordeaux style wines in Santa Ynez
- Cambria Estate Winery focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Santa Maria Valley
- Casa Dumetz, a boutique winery owned by lady winemaker Sonia Magdevski
- Crown Point Vineyards
- Foxen Vineyard and Winery
- Ken Brown Wines with winemaker Ben Van Antwerp
- Margerum Wines is fun to visit when wine tasting on Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail
- Piazza Family Wines with lady winemaker Gretchen Voelcker
- Rusack Wines
- Story of Soil, tiny boutique winery led by Jessica Gasca owner and winemaker
Take a Deep Dive into Santa Barbara
Take a peek at previous trips to Santa Barbara here:
- Santa Barbara Wineries Guide
- California Grown's Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara Guide with a farm fresh focus
More Julia Child Inspired Recipes
- Gougères Recipe - French cheese puffs
- Oeufs en Meurette Recipe - Eggs Poached in Red Wine
- Pissaladière Recipe - Anchovy and Caramelized Onion Tart, also a Niçoise recipe
- Coq au Vin Recipe, red wine braised chicken
- Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe, beef braised in Burgundy wine
More Main Dish Salads
In case it wasn't obvious, big, bright colorful salads feature prominently as main dishes in The Delicious Life. Here are a few that get a lot of love:
- Lobster Avocado Cobb Salad
- Salmon Cobb Salad
- Chinese Chicken Salad
- Tropical Cobb Salad
- Soba Noodle Salad, add salmon or roasted tofu to make it a meal
Salade Niçoise Recipe
- large wooden bowl
- 3 cups fresh sugar snap peas * Julia's recipe calls for blanched green beans
- 3-4 quartered tomatoes
- 1 cup Vinaigrette * see below
- 1 head Romaine lettuce * Julia's recipe calls for Boston lettuce
- 3 cups fresh radishes, sliced * Julia's recipe calls for cooked potatoes
- 1 cup canned tuna, drained
- ½ cup pitted black olives
- 2-3 hard-boiled eggs peeled and cut into quarters
- 6 to 12 anchovy filets drained
- 2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh green herbs
- Toss the lettuce leaves with about ¼ cup of vinaigrette and place the lettuce in the bottom of the bowl.
- Arrange the remaining ingredients over the lettuce.
- Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the entire bowl. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs.
Simple Herb Vinaigrette for Salade Niçoise
- garlic press
- mason jar
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar or lemon juice, or a combination of both
- ¾ cup neutral oil or olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced this is not in Julia's recipe, but I can't imagine a recipe from the south of France or my own kitchen not having garlic
- 1-2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, chives, and basil Julia suggests tarragon, or a pinch of dried herbs
- ½ teaspoon mustard * optional, for flavor as well to help emulsfiy the dressing
- Combine the vinegar or lemon juice, oil, salt, garlic, and mustard if using, in a mason jar or blender. Shake the jar or run the blender for about 15 seconds to blend thoroughly. Season with black pepper if using.
- Stir in the herbs and correct salt and pepper just before dressing the salad.
This post generously sponsored by California Grown. All opinions and recipe adaptations are my own. Thank you for supporting our partners who help us live The Delicious Life!