Friday, 12 September 2014

Seared Tuna Nicoise Salad (includes Thermomix method)

A modern take on salade niçoise, topped with a seared tuna steak and a delicious, chunky dressing packed with bursts of niçoise flavours.


Contrary to popular belief, tuna isn't actually one of the core ingredients of a nicoise salad - anchovies are more likely to frequent the more authentic presentations, and the two wouldn't usually be served together. Cooked vegetables (e.g. potatoes and green beans) are also not part of an authentic salade niçoise recipe - fresh and raw broad beans are the way to go. I remember thinking I'd been 'done' when I ordered a nicoise salad in France a couple of decades ago, because they'd 'missed out half the ingredients'. But, what is this? Next I'll be telling you there are no boiled eggs either!

        Salade nicoise

No, don't worry there are. However, there are as many recipes for salad niçoise, as there are for chilli con carne no doubt, and it's just as contentious! Even the modern Niçois break the 'rules' and serve tuna and anchovies together. So, if they can, so can we, and while we're at it, let's break a few more and keep everybody happy and call it Nicoise Salad instead! (I doubt anyone Niçois would be reading a recipe for it in English anyway - especially if they saw a photo with potatoes and green beans on it - sacré bleu!!). With this recipe, you can choose whether to serve it warm or cold - I like to have my potatoes, beans and eggs warm, which makes it a great dish for winter or summer.


So after our first little harvest of French beans this year (lovingly grown by the good man), together with a motley collection of different tomatoes, hastily picked according to ripeness (rather than variety!), I was inspired to blog my version of Nicoise salad, which has evolved over the years. Mine involves serving a seared tuna steak over the warm steamed green beans and potatoes (optionally tossed in a little olive oil), with lettuce and cherry tomatoes on the side topped with a fresh a boiled egg (of course!), and a wonderfully piquant chunky dressing, with the olives, anchovies and basil within it, warmed through until the anchovies melt into the dressing and finished with capers and diced tomato then spooned over the top... fancy joining me?
You can play around with the salad ingredients (or the dressing), of course, according to what you have and love - add peppers, cucumbers, radishes or whatever you have to hand, use rocket leaves, and even try it with the fresh broad beans if you want to see what you're missing out on! I have a love of fresh tuna, just seared on the outside and rare in the middle - cook your tuna the way you like it, or if you prefer, use a good quality (dolphin-friendly) jarred or tinned tuna (in oil, if you're going to do it the more Gallic way).

Serves two people, easily doubled. 470 calories per serving (328 calories without the dressing, if you want to use a bought dressing, or just have a drizzle of balsamic for a few calories). Halve these quantities for a sophisticated starter at 235 calories [Calories in square brackets - it will of course be more if you add more extra virgin olive oil for tossing potatoes in and drizzles!]
Ingredients
  • 2 very fresh tuna steaks, 130g each (preferably sashimi grade if you want them rare/blue, or you takes your chances, or freeze overnight first), or you could use tinned tuna [270 calories for the steaks]
  • 1 tsp oil (e.g. olive oil, not extra virgin) [45]
  • 2 medium eggs (UK 58g - fridge cold) [176]
  • 140g baby/small potatoes [95]
  • 100g French/green beans, trimmed [25]
  • 2 baby gem lettuces, or a mixture of salad leaves (140g after trimming) [22]
  • 100g cherry tomatoes [20]
  • A few small basil leaves, to garnish [1]
  • A little extra virgin olive oil (to toss potatoes and beans in, optional - 45 calories per tsp)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper [1]

For the dressing

(serves four, because I *always* make too much dressing, so you will have leftovers - great for dipping warm crusty bread into, or served with grilled lamb or a tin of tuna with anoher salad the next day!)
  • Handful fresh basil leaves (around 10g) [2]
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled [6]
  • 1 small shallot, peeled (or 1/2 a banana shallot, 25g) [6]
  • 3 anchovy fillets (from a jar in oil, drained) [20]
  • 50g pitted olives (black nicoise if you can get them, or good quality green if you prefer) [70]
  • 2 x 15ml tbsp white balsamic vinegar (you could use normal balsamic or apple cider vinegar if you prefer) [26]
  • 1/2 tbsp (7.5ml) lemon juice [2]
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard [7]
  • 3 x 15ml tbsp (45 ml/g) good extra virgin olive oil [405]
  • 1 tbsp small capers (e.g. nonpareille) [3]
  • 1 large vine tomato (about 100g) [20]
  • Freshly ground black pepper (and salt if required) to taste [1]

Method
(See below for Thermomix method, in italics)

Remove your tuna from the fridge, and set aside to come to room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients. (Unless you're using tinned tuna. Which I hope you don't store in the fridge, unless you're Joey Essex).

The dressing can be served warm or cold - it's up to you. You can make it first and set it aside, or put it together while the potatoes and beans are steaming (which you can serve cold anyway if you prefer!).

To make the dressing, crush the garlic, and 'relatively' finely chop the shallots, anchovies, olives and basil (depending on how 'chunky' you've like it). Put into a small pan with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and oil. Put onto the lowest heat, and gently warm through for a few minutes (don't boil or simmer) while you skin the tomato (cut a cross into the bottom, and either stick a fork into the top and hold over a gas flame, turning, or put into a jug of just-boiled water for a few seconds, then remove, put under cold water to cool it down and then peel). Chop in half through the top to the bottom, core and de-seed, then cut into small dice.


Once the anchovies have melted into the warmed sauce, take it off the heat, stir in the tomatoes and capers, season with freshly ground black pepper (and salt if you desire, although I don't think it needs it - taste first) and set aside. If yours looks a little different to mine, done worry, as I used green olives this time, and a mixture of purple and green basil (as that's what we've got growing on the windowsill).

Scrub the potatoes, and (if you would like to steam everything) cut into 1/2cm slices. It's important to cut them evenly, and no larger than 0.5mm, or they won't cook in the time given. And at this thickness, the potatoes, green beans and eggs will all steam to perfection at exactly the same time! (Provided you're using UK medium size 58/60g eggs straight from the fridge and want them just cooked through). Of course, you're welcome to keep your potatoes whole, halve them, or however you prefer, and you can boil your eggs, potatoes, beans etc. to however you like them cooked - it's *your* dinner!

If you are going to steam everything arrange it in steamer trays/baskets with eggs at the bottom, then sliced potatoes above the eggs, making sure they're all separated, there is room for the steam to get through (as in the photo above) and none are sticking together in pairs, and they are evenly spread out, and beans on top. Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil, then carefully place the steamer trays/baskets on top, and keeping the water at a rolling boil (steam is steam, and the same temperature regardless of how much there is, however the density of steam is important and it's no use turning it down to a simmer as there won't be enough to cook everything) - it will take around 12 minutes for everything to cook. Once the potatoes and beans are tender, you can turn the heat off, and leave the steamer baskets on top of the pan of hot water to keep them warm. I advise taking the eggs out immediately, rinsing them under cold water for a minute or two, and shelling them once they're cool enough to handle - this way if you have any suspicions that they're under-cooked from the amount of 'give' they have in them after peeling, you can sit them in the boiling water in the pan under the steaming baskets to continue cooking through a little more for a few minutes.

While the potatoes, beans and eggs are steaming, prepare the other ingredients.


If using baby gem lettuces (or similar), remove the first couple of outer leaves (if they're looking a little worse for wear), cut a few mm from the base/stalk (without cutting off too much, so that the leaves are still intact) so it looks nice and fresh and clean, and wash carefully under the tap, parting the leaves and making sure all dirt, grit and any wee beasties are rinsed off. I like to simply cut in half from top to bottom, as I think it has a certain simplicity and elegance to it, or you could cut into quarters, or even bite-size pieces if you prefer.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (the quick way to do this, is put them all next to each other, put a chopping board or plate on top holding on to it to keep the tomatoes in place, and using a long, sharp knife - serrated is good - cut through them all at once!).


Finally, cook your tuna steaks (unless using tinned, of course). After washing them, and patting them dry, coat evenly in the oil (if you're not counting calories, you're welcome to use more), then season. 

Pre-heat a griddle or heavy based pan then cook them however you like them best. The great thing with tuna is you can see it cooking by watching the grey-white colour creeping up the side of it, then flip it depending on how you like it. 

My recommendation, is anything between blue and medium rare. It's not like steak, where the juices (myoglobin as it happens, not blood!) will come out if it's pink if this is a concern for you - you will just get beautifully tender, luscious scarlet-to-pink tender flesh. For me, I love it 'blue' really - just seared on the outside on a really high heat for probably less than a minute on each side to get that delicious hit of umami from the caramelised juices, with the rest of it melt in your mouth. I wouldn't recommend cooking it well done - good quality tuna isn't cheap so you may as well use tinned if you want it cooked through for similar effect, although of course it is personal choice - you will just end up with stiff, dry, fibrous grey meat, which won't flake into delicious forkfuls (flakes are more the medium rare end - for rare/blue tuna steak, I recommend slicing before topping your salad, rather than serving whole). Once it's cooked to your liking, transfer to a plate immediately to stop the cooking process (or chopping board, if you wish to slice it before serving).

One of the things I love most about this dish, is it isn't one of those dishes which needs to be served up piping hot, so you can cook it in a fairly laissez faire way, to suit you - whether it ends up on the plate hot, warm or cold is entirely down to how much of a rush you are in to get the fishy in a dishy into the tummy. Tell the guests whatever you like, depending on how quick you are to plate up! ;)

My way of serving this (because I like a sort of degree-of-separation between the warm and cool elements) is to plate the lettuce, scattered with the tomatoes on one half of the plate, then give the steamed potatoes and French beans a quick toss in a little splash of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, and put on the other side of the plate, and then top with the tuna steak and a halved egg, spoon over some dressing, and scatter with a few basil leaves. Frankly, as it's one of my favourite dishes, if you were making it for me I wouldn't care how you plated it up, I'd be too busy drooling!

Thermomix method

Remove your tuna from the fridge, and set aside to come to room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients. (Unless you're using tinned tuna. Which I sort of hope you don't store in the fridge, unless you're Joey Essex or it's already been opened!).

To make the dressing, set the Thermomix to run on Speed 8, and drop the basil, peeled garlic and shallots, and drained anchovies onto the running blades in that order. Turn down to Speed 4 and drop the olives onto the running blades and give them about 3 seconds then turn off.

Scrape down, add a few good grinds of black pepper, and add the 2 tbsp (30g) vinegar, 1/2 tbsp (7g) lemon juice and 3 tbsp (45g) extra virgin olive oil. Cook at 90C / Reverse Spoon / 1 minute 30 seconds / Speed 1, and then when the alarm goes off, cook at 70C / Reverse Spoon / 2 minutes / Speed Spoon (slow). Meanwhile, skin the large tomato (cut a cross into the bottom, and either stick a fork into the top and hold over a gas flame, turning, or put into a jug of just-boiled water for a few seconds, then remove, put under cold water and peel). Chop in half through the top to the bottom, cut out the core, and gently remove and discard the seeds, then cut into small dice, around 1/2cm - OK, you could do this in the Thermomix first, and set aside, but for me it's only one tomato and having spent the time skinning it myself, I'm happy to spend a few more seconds cutting it into perfect small dice while the dressing is warming through!
Once the dressing is done, scrape into a bowl, and stir in the diced, skinned tomato and capers. Set aside, and don't worry about cleaning the bowl out as you'll be steaming in it next! If your dressing looks a little different to mine, done worry, as I used green olives this time, and a mixture of purple and green basil (as that's what we've got growing on the windowsill).

Scrub the potatoes, and cut into 1/2cm slices. It's important to cut them evenly, and no larger than 0.5mm, or they won't cook in the Varoma in the time given. And at this thickness, the potatoes, green beans and eggs will all steam to perfection at exactly the same time! (Provided you're using 58/60g eggs straight from the fridge and want them just cooked through - if you want them runny, remove a few minutes earlier). 


Add 500g cold water to the jug, and place the eggs in the internal steaming basket, inside the jug. Arrange the potato slices in the bottom of the Varoma, making sure they're all separated, there is room for the steam to get through (as in the photo) and none are sticking together in pairs, and they are evenly spread out (preferably over the holes, and not right to the edges of the bottom of the Varoma - as in the photo), and scatter the French beans in the top tray of the Varoma.

Steam at Varoma temperature / 14 minutes (take eggs out earlier if you want them runnier) / Speed 1.
Once cooked, check the potatoes and beans are tender, and take the eggs out immediately, rinsing them under cold water for a minute or two, and shelling them once they're cool enough to handle - this way if you have any suspicions that they're under-cooked from the amount of 'give' they have in them after peeling, you can sit them in the boiling water in the bowl to continue cooking through a little more for a few minutes. Leave the potatoes and beans sitting in the Varoma over the bowl to keep them warm, if you like a warm nicoise.

While the potatoes, beans and eggs are steaming, prepare the other ingredients.
If using baby gem lettuces (or similar), remove the first couple of outer leaves (if they're looking a little worse for wear), cut a few mm from the base/stalk (without cutting off too much, so that the leaves are still intact) so it looks nice and fresh and clean, and wash carefully under the tap, parting the leaves and making sure all dirt, grit and any wee beasties are rinsed off. I like to simply cut in half from top to bottom, as I think it has a certain simplicity and elegance to it, or you could cut into quarters, or even bite-size pieces if you prefer.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (the quick way to do this, is put them all next to each other, put a chopping board or plate on top holding on to it to keep the tomatoes in place, and using a long, sharp knife - serrated is good - cut through them all at once!).

Finally, cook your tuna steaks (unless using tinned, of course). You can do this before your egg/potato/beans time is up, or afterwards while they're sitting over the hot water. After washing them, and patting them dry, coat evenly in the oil (if you're not counting calories, you're welcome to use more), then season. Pre-heat a griddle or heavy based pan then cook them however you like them best. The great thing with tuna is you can see it cooking by watching the grey-white colour creeping up the side of it, then flip it depending on how you like it. My recommendation, is anything between blue and medium rare. It's not like steak, where the juices (myoglobin as it happens, not blood!) will come out if it's pink if this is a concern for you - you will just get beautifully tender, luscious scarlet-to-pink tender flesh. For me, I love it 'blue' really - just seared on the outside on a really high heat for probably less than a minute on each side to get that delicious hit of umami from the caramelised juices, with the rest of it melt in your mouth. I wouldn't recommend cooking it well done - good quality tuna isn't cheap so you may as well use tinned if you want it cooked through for similar effect, although of course it is personal choice - you will just end up with stiff, dry, fibrous grey meat, which won't flake into delicious forkfuls (flakes are more the medium rare end - for rare/blue tuna steak, I recommend slicing before topping your salad, rather than serving whole). Once it's cooked to your liking, transfer to a plate immediately to stop the cooking process
(or chopping board, if you wish to slice it before serving).

One of the things I love most about this dish, is it isn't one of those dishes which needs to be served up piping hot, so you can cook it in a fairly laissez faire way, to suit you - whether it ends up on the plate hot, warm or cold is entirely down to how much of a rush you are in to get the fishy in a dishy into the tummy. Tell the guests whatever you like, depending on how quick you are to plate up! ;)


        

My way of serving this (because I like a sort of degree-of-separation between the warm and cool elements) is to plate the lettuce, scattered with the tomatoes on one half of the plate, then give the steamed potatoes and French beans a quick toss in a little splash of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt (you can do this in the bottom of the Varoma, by tipping it to one side, and tossing them in a drizzle of oil and salt), and put on the other side of the plate, and then top with the tuna steak and a halved egg, spoon over some dressing, and scatter with a few basil leaves. Frankly, as it's one of my favourite dishes, if you were making it for me I wouldn't care how you plated it up, I'd be too busy drooling!


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