French Mint’s Salade Nicoise

Denise Marchessault, chef and owner of French Mint cooking school, writes: “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this salad. Traditional Niçoise Salad, is made with canned tuna with Niçoise olives. In this version, I use local halibut but salmon, snapper and tuna also work well in this recipe.


Niçoise olives are delicious small black olives with a rich, nutty, mellow flavor. These days, you can find them in many speciality food shops. If you can’t find them, substitute any dark olive packed in oil. (Olives with pits are more flavorful than pitted olives.)


This recipe calls for both capers and, the less familiar, caper berries. Both the caper bud and the milder berry are from the same caper bush.


The key to the success of this salad is ensuring each ingredient is properly cooked and seasoned. Not difficult, but it does take a little patience. Fortunately, the salad ingredients and the dressing can be prepared in advance. The fish should be lightly cooked just before serving.


Salad Ingredients

¼ lb fresh green beans, trimmed and blanched

1 bunch of fresh asparagus, peeled and blanched

1 red onion, sliced

1 cup ripe cherry tomatoes

¼ cup caper berries

¼ cup of Nicoise olives

½ pound of small, red-skinned new potatoes (no peeling necessary)

4 eggs, boiled (as described below)

8 anchovy fillets, drained and rinsed


Cut or snap the woody ends off the asparagus and peel the remaining stalk with a vegetable peeler. Peeling asparagus sounds like a fussy step but it’s worth the effort; the asparagus cooks evenly and it’s much more pleasant to eat asparagus without the tough chewy strands. (The trim can be reserved to make a lovely soup or sauce.)


Asparagus and green beans are blanched to retain their colour: place asparagus in rapidly boiling, generously salted, water for a few minutes until lightly cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water. Repeat the process with the green beans.Wash the potatoes and place them in a saucepan of cold, salted water. (Placing potatoes in boiling water causes them to cook unevenly; overdone on the outside, undercooked in the centre.) Gently bring the water to a simmer and cook the potatoes just until the tip of a knife easily pierces the potato. Drain and rinse the potatoes in cool water to prevent them from continuing to cook (with the residual heat). Quarter the cooked potatoes.


Place the eggs in gently simmering water for 8 minutes and then plunge them into cool water to prevent further cooking.


The Vinaigrette:

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

¼ cup white wine vinegar

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

2 Tbsp capers, drained and roughly chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grapeseed or other mild vegetable oil


In a small bowl ,mix the Dijon mustard with the vinegar. Add the garlic and the chopped capers to the mustard vinegar mixture and mix with a small whisk. Slowly add the grapeseed oil and continue to whisk until the mixture is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add more vinegar if necessary – the vinaigrette should be quite piquant.


2 halibut fillets approx. 180 – 225 grams (7 – 8 ounces) each


Marinate the fish in the vinaigrette for approximately 5 minutes. (Don’t be tempted to leave the fish longer; the acidic vinaigrette will start to “cook” or cure the fish.) Remove the fish from the vinaigrette, and season both sides of the fillets with a generous pinch of salt.


The secret to cooking fish is to remove the fish before it is fully cooked. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the fillets to the skillet and cook for approximately 2 minutes without turning. Turn the fish over and cook for another 2-4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, loosely cover the fish with foil and set aside; the fish will continue cooking from the residual heat. (Far better to remove the fish from the pan too early, than to overcook it. Fish cannot be saved once overcooked, but it can be tossed back in the pan, if necessary, to cook a bit more.)


Remove the egg shells and quarter the eggs. Quarter the potatoes and toss them in the vinaigrette. Tossing the remaining vegetables in the vinaigrette, one variety at a time. Arrange the dressed vegetables on a platter with the halibut, eggs, anchovies, caper berries, onions and olives. Drizzle additional vinaigrette and capers on the fish. Add freshly ground pepper, if desired.

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