Many of the flavors of a classic tuna nicoise salad get an "updo" in my Niçoise-Style Rare Tuna Sandwich. Seared and sliced ahi tuna cozies up between bread smeared with tapenade and aioli, and topped with butter lettuce, heirloom tomato, and a soft-cooked basted egg... Oh the flavor in this good for the body
and soul sandwich!
I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.
~~ John Cage, American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher, and artist.
Are you familiar with the classic French niçoise or tuna niçoise salad? I have had a love affair with a tuna niçoise salad for decades (how many, I couldn't say given my quickly aging brain 😯 ) in all its variations.
I don't even mind the "composed" version that includes boiled potatoes, haricots verts, and canned (gasp) tuna! In my mind
at least, the important ingredients are really fresh, ripe tomatoes, beautiful leafy greens, olives, anchovies, and the egg. Oh how I love the egg!
So, how did my love of salade niçoise turn into a Niçoise-Style Rare Tuna Sandwich? A date night with hubby on the patio at one of our favorite local restaurants. 💕
Though it was late September, it was 95 degrees in the shade, yet somehow we ended up on the patio... (because I love the way food tastes outdoors! 😉).
We started with a beautiful cheese and charcuterie plate, and a hot entrée held no appeal, but the Tuna Niçoise Sandwich on the menu caught my eye. Wow! It was a "home run" sandwich! As I wolfed it down, I told Mark "this must go on the blog!" So here we are...
I loved the Infusions version, don't get me wrong. The olives were present, but they fell out of the sandwich every time I took a bite. That was the first ingredient I wanted to address. The egg was hard-cooked, but that may have been intentional.
As I mentioned, a classic niçoise salad features hard-boiled egg. In fact, a runny yolk would make this delicious (but already messy) sandwich nearly impossible to eat with dignity. 😆 I opted for a compromise. My yolk is not runny, but it is still soft. My dignity stayed intact. I believe the Infusions version had an aioli, but it wasn't memorable.
What Exactly is "Niçoise?"
Salade niçoise is a French Mediterranean salad that originated in Nice. A 1903 recipe by Henri Heyraud in a book called La Cuisine à Nice included tomatoes, anchovies, artichokes, olive oil, red peppers and black olives, but excluded tuna and lettuce. The dressing included olive oil, vinegar, mustard and herbs.
You will not find a single recipe for a Salade niçoise, but you will find common threads running through the dish - think robust and salty like the French coast with OLIVES, CAPERSs, GARLIC, ANCHOVIES, etc. Tomatoes weren't a "thing" in France until the 1800s, but you will find them in most recipes, along with other raw vegetables like green beans, and broad beans.
Hard-cooked egg and boiled potatoes make an appearance in many recipes, but may not be considered "authentic." The debate rages on...
To be true to its name this salad must be true to its geography - it must reek of olives, garlic, anchovy and tomatoes. Crisp lettuce also turns up every time. The rest - the beans, the artichokes, the hard-boiled eggs, the onion, broad beans, new potatoes and chopped onion - will depend on the whim of those in the kitchen.
~~ Nigel Slater, Perfect Salade Niçoise.
We can agree on one thing? I hope! The salad should reek of garlic, anchovies, olives, and tomatoes. Haha. These are a few of my favorite ingredients!
Making Niçoise-Style Rare Tuna Sandwich
I opted to make an aioli (garlic mayonnaise) with anchovy, roasted garlic, and a bit of lemon zest
because this is MY blog. Relax! I will give you some shortcuts so this doesn't become a time suck, and you still enjoy an amazing sandwich.
However, if it's Saturday afternoon, and you're dying to spend time in the kitchen, try making your own tapenade and/or aioli. I've made this tapenade and this anchovy aioli often, and love both recipes!
If you wish to choose one or the other, I'd choose making the tapenade. It goes together so quickly, and beats commercially prepared "hands down."
Tips and Tricks for Making Niçoise-Style Rare Tuna Sandwich
- Buy and thaw vacuum-seaked tuna steaks for quick and easy grilling and slicing.
- Use a good quality commercial black olive tapenade if you don't want to take the time to make your own!
- Try this Roasted Garlic Aioli if homemade is not an option - neither the time nor the desire?
- Use beautiful heirloom tomatoes and fresh eggs if possible...
- If you're using commercial tapenade that does not contain anchovies (and you love them like we do!), rub the bread with anchovies prior to grilling to get that umami salty flavor!
So, choose your strategy - prepared tapenade and embellished mayo, homemade tapenade and embellished mayo, or go for it, and make both! Isn't it great to have options?
Searing the tuna, grilling the rolls, and basting an egg takes minutes. The night I shot these
lovely photos, I had plenty of tapenade and aioli left from an earlier trial run, and I literally had these amazing sandwiches ready in 15 minutes! What are you waiting for?
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