The Treachery of Origins – or – Ceci N’est Pas Une Salade Niçoise

Origins of a dish are an ephemeral thing, full of nuance and speculation.And as debates rage about the invention of many dishes in the modern pantheon, those dishes morph and change to accommodate modern tastes or based on ingredient availability so the current incarnation may bear little resemblance to the original dish. The Salade Niçoise is just one example of many.

A farmer market bounty of beautiful greens, fresh green beans and new potatoes connected quite naturally to my recollection of a Salade Niçoise. The “Americanized” version typically includes green beans and new potatoes along with the required tuna, anchovies and Niçoise olives. Versions of this recipe can be found many places (such as Saveur, Epicurious or even Julia Child). Amazingly, two of those three listed, including the Julia Child’s version, does not even include Niçoise olives.

Consensus seems to building on what should be in a Salade Niçoise based on the opinion of Jacques Médecin in his book Cuisine Niçoise (a great discussion on that can be found here) which explicitly forbids new potatoes and green beans and features tomatoes much more prominently. This approach is apparently more faithful to origin in Nice, France. The current American version is akin to calling a dish Florentine because spinach and white sauce were added, with no real connection to Florence, Italy.

The inspiration of our salad as French mattered only in so far as it further tied the dish to Great Lakes Cuisine due to the historic settlement of the Great Lakes region by the early French voyageurs and fur traders coming down what is now known as the St. Lawrence seaway. Yet the belief that the inspiration was the classic French salad led to a much deeper investigation of the French history in the Great Lakes region. Much of the settlement of the area was not by French nationals or French military simply claiming lands in the New World. The process took generations and was much more gradual. In fact, many of the enduring settlements in the region were populated to a large degree by a multi-racial, multi-cultural mix of French and the indigenous peoples, which can be more accurately captured by a term not often associated with the Great Lakes region – Creole (read more about the use of that term here).

1753 Devaugondy
Image from the Library of Congress

The research into French settlement in the region further led to details on the farming communities which were established to support these settlements. In one, there is a very specific mention of raising beans and potatoes to support the community. And so we are brought full circle to our Early Summer Salad presented here.

In our preparation, the green beans and potatoes were cooked over an open fire, which even furthers our connection to our early French settlers. A soft boiled egg tops our salad, rather than the more Mediterranean options of anchovies and tuna, though whitefish would have a good option in this preparation, which were reported to be plentiful around the French settlement in La Baie (which became Green Bay, Wisconsin).  And no, there are no olives here.

An argument could be made for calling this a Creole Salad in line with the larger discussion on mixed race settlements alluded to earlier, but Creole Cuisine is already largely defined in the American mind and would only cause confusion. So we elected to simply call this our Early Summer Salad in honor of the harvest time for the ingredients. This is not a Salade Niçoise. This is, however, Great Lakes Cuisine. Local ingredients with lengthy ties to the area, ethnic traditions provided inspiration (though in a very circuitous fashion), and re-imagined for modern tastes. Imagine this coming fresh from your own farm, prepared over an open fire. Even better if you don’t have to imagine it.

Early Summer Salad

4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
8 oz. green beans
1 Tbs. butter, melted
8 small new potatoes, quartered
4 large eggs
16 oz. mixed greens
dried herbs (herbs de provence)
garlic powder
salt

Apple cider vinaigrette (see note below)

Prepare grill to medium heat. This can also be prepared stove-top. Place cast iron pan large enough to hold potatoes in one layer on to grill. Toss potatoes with butter, pinch of salt, pinch of garlic powder, and pinch of herbs de provence. Add to cast iron pan. Place diced bacon into a cast iron pan large enough to hold the green beans and place on grill to cook until just crisp. Remove bacon and leave 1 Tbs. of fat in pan. Add green beans and toss with bacon fat to coat. Allow green beans to roast for approximately 20 minutes or until just cooked through. Allow potatoes to roast for approximately 60 minutes until soft and golden crisp. Poach eggs in gently boiling water, about 4 minutes.

Note: We make a house vinaigrette with a house-made malt vinegar made with a wheat saison, but apple cider vinaigrette will work well here. We also roasted shallots to add to the dressing as well. Store bought will work fine, or consider making one with 3 Tbs. vinegar, 1/2 cup oil, and Penzey’s Country Vinaigrette seasoning mix and then add a shallot, diced and caramelized.

To assemble salad, toss greens with just enough vinaigrette to lightly moisten. Pile greens on plate, add a small pile of green beans and a few potatoes per plate. Top with poached egg, a spoonful of vinaigrette and sprinkle with crisped bacon.

Early Summer Salad

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