This winter Nicoise-ish salad hits all the right notes with crunchy shaved fennel and radishes, greens and radicchio, tender new potatoes suffused with herbs and a punchy vinaigrette, just-set 7-minute steamed eggs, and piles of olives.
What follows is absolutely not a true Nicoise salad. Not at all. For starters, it’s mid-January and there’s not a decent tomato to be found in a 500 mile radius. The salad I’m sharing here is a wintry spin on a Nicoise salad – it comes with an acknowledgement that yes, we’d all really love fresh tomatoes and sun and other summer delights, but it’s January and we might as well eat something good.
Further, a proper Nicoise salad comes with a lot of rules. Like: All the vegetables should be raw. You can use anchovies or tuna, but not both. There are also rules about the type of vinaigrette that must be used – I don’t even have time to try and decode that.
What I do know is that it’s winter and I’m deeply in need of vegetables. This dish, let’s call it a winter Nicoise-ish salad, has tender new potatoes, 7-minute eggs, plus crunchy winter vegetables like fennel, black radishes (from my garden!), watermelon radishes (from the store), radicchio, and greens. I don’t eat tuna regularly, so I’ve added canned salmon instead. And I really like anchovies, so there’s extras of those. Finally, I tried but failed to source Nicoise olives, so these are Kalamata.
If you make this salad, swap in what you have and what you like. It’s winter, vegetables are good, and none of us have time for elaborate salad rules.
Composing Your Salad
My take on a winter Nicoise salad combines tender new potatoes and just-set steamed eggs with crunchy shaved raw vegetables like radishes and fennel, plus seasonal greens like romaine and radicchio. The potatoes, shaved vegetables, and greens should be dressed and salted separately, since they each need different amounts of vinaigrette and sea salt to reach their full flavor potential.
I find the potatoes absorb the vinaigrette beautifully and should be dressed and salted generously. I also added several tablespoons minced fennel fronds and dill.
To the shaved radishes and fennel, add a pinch of sea salt, 1 or 2 teaspoons in vinaigrette, and a squeeze of lemon. The goal is to take the edge off the crunch without making the vegetables soggy.
The greens should be treated with care so they don’t wilt or lose their crunch under all the other heavy ingredients. For me, this means dressing them with a couple teaspoons of dressing and a teeny pinch of sea salt.
Once you’ve prepped the elements, the salad can be assembled on a big platter or plated in shallow bowls.
A quick note: In researching for this recipe, I ran across this salad from Serious Eats. The author recommends cooking the whole potatoes in water and a full half cup of salt. This was a little much for me, but I did add 1/4 cup fine sea salt to the water and the potatoes were incredibly creamy and tender. They still needed salt once they were cooled and cut, but the texture was amazing. Now I, and you, know.
Also, I must absolutely insist that you steam your eggs instead of boiling them. The technique gives you much more control over texture and allows you to peel even fresh eggs effortlessly.
- 1 pound 1 or 2-inch new potatoes, scrubbed
- ¼ cup fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons minced fennel fronds and dill
- 4 eggs, steamed 7 minutes
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot (about 1 medium)
- Zest of 1 lemon plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb, fronds trimmed and reserved and cored
- 4 medium watermelon and/or black radishes, greens trimmed and scrubbed (or sub a bunch of smaller red radishes)
- 2 cups greens and radicchio leaves, washed and dried
- Lemon juice, as needed
- Fine sea salt
- 1 4- ounce can boneless, skinless salmon
- ½ cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives
- Remaining anchovies, if desired
- Minced fennel fronds and dill
- Fresh ground pepper
First, prepare potatoes and eggs. Fill a large pot with cold water and add the whole potatoes. Bring to a boil. Add the sea salt and cook 20 - 25 minutes from the time the water boils, or until potatoes are fork tender. Remove whole potatoes to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, steam the eggs for 7 minutes. Immerse in ice water until you're ready to peel.
Next, make the vinaigrette. In a pint jar or small bowl, whisk the shallot, zest, lemon juice, vinegar, anchovies, and sea salt with a fork and set aside 5 minutes. Add Dijon and then the olive oil, whisking until emulsified.
Working carefully with a mandoline slicer, slice fennel and radishes 1/16-inch thick. Set in a bowl and toss with a pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Add 1 - 2 teaspoon vinaigrette. Set aside.
Toss greens with 1 - 2 teaspoons vinaigrette and sea salt to taste.
When potatoes are cool, slice into 1-inch wedges, and toss with 1 - 2 tablespoons vinaigrette, minced herbs, and sea salt to taste.
Peel the eggs. Tip the salmon into a small bowl, break into chunks, and toss with vinaigrette and sea salt.
To assemble the salad, arrange the greens on a large platter. Add the shaved vegetables and potatoes in different sections, tuck the salmon around the salad. Halve the eggs and add to the platter. Scatter the olives, and anchovies, if using. Finish with several teaspoons vinaigrette, sprinkle the eggs with sea salt and pepper, and finish with fresh herbs.
This was wonderful. Salting, adding lemon juice and vinaigrette to each component is definitely essential. The whole thing came together beautifully.