Making the ultimate salade Niçoise, by Tom Parker Bowles

Obey the rules and there are few finer things than a salade Niçoise served in the shade of an old olive tree, believes Tom Parker Bowles.

Jacques Médecin was born in Nice and elected as its mayor in 1966, remaining in office for a further 24 years. Wildly popular among the electorate, he was also a notorious racist and fraudster. After allegations of corruption grew ever louder in the 1980s (helped, in part, by Graham Greene’s famed pamphlet J’Accuse), he fled France for Uruguay, before being arrested, extradited back home and jailed. So what, I hear you cry, does this shameless old crook have to do with salade Niçoise, save sharing the same city of birth?

Well, for all his flagrant flaws (he was a vocal supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa and even proposed a town-twinning link between Nice and Cape Town), Médecin was also the author of Cuisine Niçoise, first published in 1972 and a bona fide classic. ‘If I were asked why I wrote this book,’ he says in his preface, it would be ‘because I love Nice, its surrounding countryside, its pretty girls and their strapping young escorts, its arts, its flowers, fruit and vegetables, and, of course, its cooking.’ He may have been bent as a nine-Franc note, but he sure knew his food.

In among the sun-drenched recipes for pistou, pissaladière and ratatouille is the definitive version of his native salad. ‘Because all over the world, I have had the most unpleasant experience of being served up leftovers masquerading as salade Niçoise,’ he fumes. ‘It is one of those dishes that is constantly traduced.’ He argues that, apart from hard-boiled eggs, it must be made up entirely of raw ingredients. ‘Whatever you do, if you want to be a worthy exponent of Niçoise cookery, never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salade Niçoise.’

Jacques Médecin. (Photo by Laurent MAOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

I feel his pain, really I do. For all manner of culinary sins have been committed in the name of this glorious melange. Not only the inappropriate spud, but soggy French beans, sun-dried tomatoes (hateful things), frozen peas and even tinned sweetcorn. The horror! And I haven’t even started on the fish. I’ve seen versions with fresh tuna, which is both wasteful and wrong. A bit smug, too, as if the noble tin is somehow inferior. As for those heathen fools who add salmon… let’s move swiftly on. Médecin allows tinned tuna or salted anchovies, but never together. The reason being that ‘tunny fish’ used to be very expensive and a treat for special occasions. So, the anchovies, which were rather cheaper, usually ‘filled the bill’. This, however, is one rule I’m always happy to ignore, as my salade Niçoise has both—preferably from the magnificent Ortiz.

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Tomatoes were originally salted three times, meaning lots of juice, and simply ‘moistened with olive oil’. So no vinaigrette, although I don’t think the old mountebank would judge me too harshly for adding a splash of red-wine vinegar. As for the rest of the ingredients, ripe, sweet, luscious tomatoes are essential (which makes the salad very much a summer dish, when the fruits are at their peak), as are hard-boiled eggs (the yolk still a touch runny), onions (spring, red or white), black olives, basil and a clove of garlic (which should be rubbed around the salad bowl).

You can also throw in broad beans, tiny artichokes, radishes, cucumber and even, dare I say it, green peppers (they appear in Médecin’s original recipe, but I wish he’d taken them to Uruguay. And left them there). No lettuce. Or rocket. And definitely no Lollo Rosso. Serve in a big wooden bowl, with a few bottles of icy rosé. Preferably in the shade of an old olive tree.

Recipe: Salade Niçoise

This recipe comes from Alex Jackson’s Sardine, the book of his eponymous, late and much-missed Provençal restaurant in east London. ‘A salade Niçoise should be an expression of the southern French summer,’ he writes, ‘crunchy, vibrant, strident and fresh.’


  • Half a garlic clove, peeled, for rubbing
  • 2 small artichokes, outer leaves removed, dark-green bits peeled, choke removed
  • 1 small, firm cucumber or half a big watery one 
  • 12 nice radishes 
  • 1 white or red salad onion, as mild and sweet as possible
  • 250g (9oz) ripe tomatoes (the most delicious you can find—I like to use Bull’s Heart)
  • 2tbspn olive oil
  • 1tbspn red-wine vinegar
  • 150g (5¼oz) good-quality tuna in olive oil (such as Ortiz) or 8 salted anchovy fillets
  • A small handful of black olives (dark-black Provençal for preference), pitted
  • Half a bunch of basil, leaves picked
  • 2 eggs, hard boiled for 7 minutes and shelled
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


Run around the inside of a serving bowl with the cut garlic.

Prepare the artichokes and slice them thinly, lengthways. Cut the cucumber and radish into slices, but not too thin this time. Peel and slice the onion as thinly as possible. Cut the tomatoes into chunks, wedges or quarters, depending on their size.

Combine the vegetables in the serving bowl. Add the olive oil and red-wine vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Mix in the tuna or anchovies, olives and basil. Cut the hard-boiled eggs into halves or quarters, season lightly with salt and pepper, then arrange on top of the salad.

Finish with an extra drizzle of olive oil, if you feel the salad needs it.

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