Nick-o-eyes. Nee-co-eese. Nye-soys.
When I first came across this recipe, I had no idea how to say it, let alone know how to make it. Tuna Niçoise salad has a hoity-toity reputation, definitely much fancier than its cousin, the plain-old tuna salad. It seemed like the more people corrected me–tuna Niçoise, not tuna salad–the less I wanted to taste it. But taste it I did, and oh man, is this sandwich worth all the hubbub.
Tuna Niçoise (nee-swahz) salad essentially contains tuna, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, can contain anchovies and is dressed with a vinaigrette. Those basic rules apply to both salad and sandwich version of this dish, but can be customized almost endlessly. Honestly, I think the only parts that need to be on this dish for it to still count are the tuna and the olives, but that’s just me.
(If I’m getting real honest here, I don’t even use Niçoise olives. I know! I use Kalamata. Niçoise olives are used in the production of olive oil, and I think they taste a little, well, oily. Kalamata are essentially table olives. They have a nice salty taste to them and a richness that comes from being brined in wine.)
So what makes this sandwich so much better than a tuna salad? Lots of reasons, but I think one of the biggest reasons is the flavor profile. A typical tuna salad overwhelmingly tastes of mayo, and even the relish can have an overpowering flavor. Since this is really more of a salad on bread, each ingredient gets a chance to shine and isn’t bound together by something else.
Another point against the tuna salad, it tends to be soupy and sloppy, two things I do not want my sandwich to be. Especially if it was once a fish! I’m a texture person, and goopy food weirds me out. I’m not even a fan of Sloppy Joes. It’s purely psychological, but I also equate that goopiness with it being unhealthy. That’s one thing I can promise you this sandwich is not! All those fresh veggies, unaltered tuna, the oils and vinegars instead of fat-based mayo–yum!
This is a recipe I tweaked from Martha Stewart. I swapped out a couple of things, the most notable are the olives and the arugula. Arugula is a salad vegetable, similar to lettuce, but is thinner, softer, and generally more of a leaf than anything else. Also, it’s often called rocket, so there’s that.
Alright, I’m getting hungry. Let’s get going!
2 cans oil-packed tuna, drained (Albacore is preferred, but not necessary)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional, but delicious)
1/2 of a small cucumber, sliced thinly
1/4 of a small red onion, halved and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 large eggs, hard-boiled and sliced into rings
Coarse ground pepper to flavor
1 loaf of fantastic, soft French bread (not baguette! Baguettes have a tight crumb with a tough crust–it will make this sandwich very difficult to eat).
In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and mustard to create a vinaigrette. Take two spoonfuls of the vinaigrette and mix with tuna. Toss the onions and cucumbers in the remaining dressing.
Remove top of bread and remove a portion of the crumb, creating small well for the salad to sit in. Spread arugula leaves across the bottom portion of the bread to create a bed for the salad. Layer egg slices on top of the arugula, making sure there will be egg in each bite. Sprinkle olives over the tops of the eggs. Next, follow with the tuna, then the vegetable mixture.
Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place between two baking sheets. Weigh it down with a heavy skillet. Refrigerate this way for a minimum of one hour. Cut to serve.
Excuse me while I go eat my weight in this amazingly refreshing sandwich.