In Scout’s How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
Everyone deserves to have a back-pocket “beautiful meal” tucked away in their home-cooking arsenal. A dish that’s the opposite of the “ugly-delicious” subset of recipes. One that stuns when you lay it down on the plate, inspiring a glut of superficial Instagram material (no shade to ugly-delicious foods, but summertime is beautiful food time). For me, the ace up my sleeve is always going to be Niçoise salad, the achingly lovely French bistro meal that hardly deserves to be categorized as a salad for it is a meal undeserving of being plunked in the same grouping as some of its sad, wilted cohorts. Of all the French bistros in Vancouver that I favour (and I favour so very many – butter and cream are my lifeblood), my heart lives at Les Faux Bourgeois. Sitting at the maple bar with a plate of salade Niçoise, a never-ending dish of sliced baguette, and a warm tarte flambé en route (Alsacienne version, always) is a glorious place to find oneself on an early Sunday evening. Short of making your way to the Fraserhood to replicate the trifecta, this recipe will transport you to a place far away from the evils of the work week.
I have made some amendments to Les Faux’s original dish, mostly for ease, though the overachiever in me did include a version of tuna confit from scratch, should you be perverse enough to want to go down that path. Alternatively and time-sparingly, purchase yourself a couple of very good-quality tins or jars of oil-packed tuna fillets (my favourite being ‘ventresca’, slices of tuna belly so luscious they may as well be made from butter). In addition, I have forgone blanched, peeled tomatoes for halved cherry tomatoes (I’m sorry, but as a home cook I just cannot, will not, should not be bothered to ever peel the skin from a tomato). The rich, salty anchoïade dressing on the restaurant version has also been swapped out for a Dijon dressing that will likely be more accessible for the hoards of people who find the taste of straight-up anchovy to be slightly repugnant (though anchoïade recipes are abundant from reputable online sources if you want that extra punch of umami deliciousness).
Ingredients note: Granville Island Market is the ideal one-stop shop for the ingredients listed below. From seafood (whether fresh if making tuna confit from scratch, or lovely tinned tuna if taking the shortcut) to Niçoise olives to every possible variety of produce, there is literally no part of this recipe that cannot be purchased from this food-lovers, and tourist-lovers, nirvana.
Source note: The tuna confit (from scratch) recipe comes from living deity, Samin Nosrat, while the Dijon dressing comes from deceased deity, Julia Child. The rest of the recipe comes from a decade of eating this “salad” (she said begrudgingly) on repeat summer after summer.
MY RECIPE FOR the Salade Niçoise at Les Faux Bourgeois
Serves 4 as a main course
Tuna (if making from scratch):
1 ½ lb albacore tuna (such as loin or back), thawed if frozen
2 ½ – 3 cups olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
2 1-inch strips of lemon zest
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
Salad and Assembly:
¾ lb baby yellow-flesh potatoes
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp boiling water
~½ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 small lemon (+ extra lemon wedges, to serve)
4 large eggs
1 heaping cup cherry or grape tomatoes
4 heaped cups (5 oz) mixed spring greens
½ cup Niçoise olives, pitted or whole
3 tbsp capers
Flaky sea salt (e.g. Maldon), to finish
Baguette + butter, to serve
If using store-bought tuna, skip ahead to the 3 rd paragraph. If making tuna from scratch, cut the fish into 1 ½-inch-thick pieces, season generously with kosher salt about 30 minutes before cooking, and refrigerate. Meanwhile, place the olive oil (start with 2½ cups), garlic, bay leaves, lemon zest, and peppercorns in a small Dutch oven or deep, heavy skillet. I typically use a 10-inch enameled Dutch oven; you don’t want a HUGE pot because it’ll mean using more olive oil to cover the fish, which gets pricey quickly. Place the pot or skillet over low heat. Ideally, you would be using a cooking thermometer (consider buying if you’re a devoted home cook!) and waiting for the oil to hit ~170 degrees F. Samin recommends 180 degrees F, but my oil consistently bubbles at that temperature, which she says to not let happen. For me, hitting 170 takes about 8 minutes at low heat, which leaves the oil fairly hot to the touch, but NOT bubbling. If unable to use a thermometer, try to find the sweet spot between just slightly too hot to touch for longer than a second but cooler than bubbling. You may need to barely have the element on. If your oil insists on bubbling at a very low temp, turn the element off for several minutes then turn back on to the lowest possible setting. Keep the oil cooking at the “sweet spot” temperature for 15 minutes to infuse it with the aromatics. Take the tuna out of the fridge for the last 10 minutes of the infusing process to remove some of the chill. Gently slip the tuna slices into the fragrant oil. Keep the fish in a single layer and make sure every piece is covered by the oil (top up with that extra ½ cup oil or more if needed).
If using a thermometer, get the oil up to 150 degrees as it likely will have dropped in temperature significantly from the fish going in. If going by sight alone, find the spot where the tuna emits a lazy bubble or two every few seconds and hold the temperature there. It’s better to cook the fish super slowly, so if unsure, keep the heat extremely low. Check a piece of fish after 9 minutes or so – it should still be fairly pink right in the middle, but not rare (it will keep cooking through once out of the oil and will dry out too much if allowed to get to this point before being pulled out). Mine consistently takes 11 minutes to reach this perfect point. Pull the tuna from the oil and let cool on a plate. If making well ahead of time, place in a glass container and strain the cooled oil over the fish, then keep refrigerated for ~1 week. You will almost certainly have more tuna than you need for this recipe alone.
Move onto the other elements of the salad. Place the baby potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Have a large bowl of ice water ready for when the potatoes are done. Add an extremely generous pinch of salt to the cooking water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of the potatoes) until just soft enough to eat, but still holding their shape. Check after 5 minutes and then every minute or two after until they are done. Drain and place in the bowl of ice water. Once cool enough to handle, cut into halves or quarters, depending on size. Keep the ice bath handy for future egg-cooling (you’ll refresh it with more ice). While the potatoes cook/cool, make the dressing by whisking the Dijon with the boiling water in a small bowl (Julia recommends warming the bowl first by rinsing with hot water, which I remember to do ~50% of the time). Pour in ~1/3 cup olive oil in literal droplets, until the dressing begins to thicken (this should take you 5 full minutes to avoid the dressing splitting from pouring too quickly). If the dressing is thick enough after 1/3 cup, stop there; if not, keep dribbling in more oil until you’ve added the whole ½ cup. The dressing should be thick enough to not immediately drip off your finger when dipped in. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper (to your taste). Both the potatoes and the dressing can be prepared ahead of time if desired.
Assemble the rest of the ingredients. Shortly before serving, bring a medium pot of water to boil then carefully use a spoon to place the 4 eggs in the water. Boil for 9 minutes (which gives you an almost-set, fluffy yolk), then immediately spoon into the ice bath bowl (just replenish the ice cubes and cold water). Once cool enough to handle, roll the eggs on the counter to lightly crackle the shells, place back in the water, and start peeling. The water helps penetrate between the membrane and the egg, making peeling easier. Cut the cherry/grape tomatoes in half just before serving (otherwise they tend to get quite wet if left to sit out).
To assemble, place the greens on a large platter and toss very lightly with a modest amount of Dijon dressing and a pinch of flaky salt. In a small bowl, coat the potatoes with some of the Dijon dressing and a bigger pinch of flaky salt (taste and add more of either if needed). Gently toss the potatoes into the greens along with the olives, capers, and a generous amount of the tuna, which (regardless of store-bought or homemade) should be flaked into small pieces. Grind some black pepper over the salad and divide among 4 plates. Place 1 egg, cut in half to display the vivid yolk, alongside each salad and add a handful of halved tomatoes. Serve with crusty baguette slices spread with butter, as well as lemon wedges, extra dressing, and flaky salt on the side.