Fresh tuna nicoise salad is one of our very favorite meal salads. Rare grilled (or pan fried) tuna tops sweet with creamy new potatoes and crisp vegetables. Topped off with a fabulous piquant dressing and a runny boiled egg oozing over and, well, we think this is dinner heaven!
Especially delicious in spring and summer when asparagus and green beans are in season but really, we love this year round. In summer, we love to pair a dry, crisp and buttery chardonnay with this but in the cooler months, a medium bodied red is warm and comforting.
Why I make this salad
This was inspired by Julia Child's Nicoise salad, though you can see I've updated it with fresh tuna and used asparagus when in season. Traditional Nicoise often included tuna OR anchovy but not both. Julia Child was the first (that I am aware) to have included both in the salad. I think she was onto something.
This French salad originally didn't contain potatoes either! It was heavy on tomatoes and included other raw vegetables such as young raw green beans, cucumber, baby artichokes, spring onions and garlic. Potatoes have been a regular part of the Nicoise family for a century now, though there are those who still refuse to add them. C'est la vie!
I love hearty satisfying salads like Thai style Flank Steak Salad, Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad on this site and my Fresh Fig Salad, another Mediterranean classic recipe. Fresh tuna nicoise pairs well with this Quick No-Knead Bread recipe and Italian White Beans.
As a lover of tuna, I have also used it in Tuna Ceviche.
- Fresh Tuna Steaks - This can be ahi tuna (shown here) or albacore tuna. Fresh frozen at sea tuna is excellent quality.
- Eggs - Soft to medium boiled egg adds an irreplaceable level of flavor and silky texture.
- Potatoes - Sometimes called a French potato salad, new potatoes or waxy potatoes are a great way to add a firm texture to this classic dish.
- Nicoise Olives - The original olive for this salad, it has the perfect salty, soft and briny flavor.
- Capers - These add another piquant layer, a little lighter in flavor than the Nicoise olives.
- Asparagus - Fresh asparagus is wonderful in this spring nicoise salad. If you don't have fresh asparagus, try some pickled asparagus spears instead.
See recipe card for quantities.
The beauty of this niçoise salad is it's versatility. Go classic or mix it up with this great plated salad.
- Tuna - frozen at sea salmon filets cooked to medium rare are so tasty but in a pinch, you can use canned tuna which is more traditional but a little less exciting.
- Nicoise Olives - you can use any brined black olives or hot mixed olives.
- Arugula - I like the peppery punchy flavor of arugula but since the greens aren't the star, you can go with any salad greens or fresh herbs you like. Butter lettuce is classic but even romaine will do in a pinch.
- Vinegar - I used sherry vinegar but red wine vinegar is a fine substitute.
Tweak this healthy tuna salad recipe to your taste preferences or what you have available.
- Salmon - as I mentioned above, medium rare seared salmon is absolutely delicious in this recipe. You could even trade in grilled and sliced chicken for a chicken salad!
- Green Beans - raw baby green beans are traditional but I use asparagus when in season. Other fresh veggies such as cucumber, thinly sliced baby artichoke hearts or red onion are also welcome here. Herbs like fresh parsley, tarragon, chives or basil are great in this too.
- Creamy Salad Dressing: Reduce the olive oil in the dressing by have and stir in ¼ cup of thick, plain Greek yogurt to make a creamy Nicoise dressing.
- Vegetarian - This classic French recipe isn't too hard to make vegetarian if you have a vegetarian guest at your table. You can omit the anchovy and the tuna and increase the salt in the dressing a bit. Sub in some grilled firm tofu for the tuna if you wish.
- Pasta Dish - Swap out the potatoes for some cooked and chilled, al dente pasta to make a healthy tuna pasta salad! The pasta will soak up more dressing so you may use all the vinaigrette or add a little extra virgin olive oil. Sliced artichoke hearts make a great addition to this variation too.
Step 1. Prepare your eggs by boiling them in the shell until soft to medium as per your preference. 6-8 minutes in boiling water will achieve a lovely soft interior. Be sure to plunge your eggs in ice water as soon as they are done to stop the cooking.
Step 2. Place cubed potatoes into simmering water and cook for 8-10 minutes until cooked through but still firm (al dente). While potatoes are cooking, place halved asparagus spears in same pot. Blanch them by cooking them for just 1 minute, then remove with slotted spoon and run cold water over quickly to stop the cooking and keep them bright green.
Step 3. While your eggs are boiling, mix up the salad dressing. It is quick 😉
Step 4. Preheat your grill or frying pan and season your tuna with a little seasoning salt, regular sea salt, or kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
Step 5. Once your pan or grill is preheated to high, place tuna in and sear for just 1-2 minutes per side, keeping the inside rare.
Step 6. Assembly: Let the grilled tuna steak rest while you plate the rest of the salad. Get 2 large bowls or plates or 4 bowls if this is going to be a side dish.
Divide the arugula between the plates. Surround greens with asparagus, potatoes, egg cut in half or quarters, tomatoes, and olives.
Slice the Tuna against the grain (across the faint lines) and place on top.
Drizzle ¼ of the dressing over the top of each plate. (The dressing makes enough for 4 so you will have more dressing than you need for this recipe so reserve the rest for another salad.)
- You can serve your tuna more well done if you prefer but tuna is lean and it will dry out easily so be careful not to overdo it.
- If you want to toss the salad instead of drizzling the vinaigrette over, simply add the salad ingredients to a large bowl, omitting the tuna. Drizzle half the dressing over and toss gently. Plate and top with slices of tuna.
Making ahead and storage
You can make all of the components ahead of time and keep refrigerated separately up to 3 days for the vegetables and 1 day for dressing and tuna. Assemble and dress when ready to serve.
Leftovers will keep well overnight in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, as long as the salad dressing is kept separately. Once dressed, most ingredients keep well refrigerated but you may want to pick out the salad greens and add fresh ones when you are ready to eat your leftovers.
Do not freeze this tuna salad.
FAQs and Expert Tips
Nicoise is pronounce nee-swahz. Easy, right?! This word is directly relating to Nice, France where this fantastic salad was born.
Nicoise olives are a small French cultivar of black olives. Additionally (like most French food items), the name and area indicate how they are cured and preserved. Of course they got their name from Nice, France (just like the salad) and are mostly grown in south eastern France and northern Italy.
These small black olives are brine cured with herbs.
Nicoise olives have a flavor reminiscent of almonds and hazelnuts with a characteristic bitterness and of course a lovely briny saltiness.
These French olives are a classic for both the salad of the same name and for making tapenade, a savory olive paste type condiment.
I want to point out how healthy this salad is. Packed with protein, iron and other minerals, fiber and a ton of vitamins, this is a well rounded meal. These are not empty calories, they are nutritious and healthy calories.
This version of Nicoise salad with fresh tuna, comes in at 422 calories per plate. This is of course dependent on the size of tuna steaks and how much dressing you pour on. Read through to the recipe card for full nutritional information on my recipe.
Last words of wisdom
This salad is truly easy enough for a weeknight but also looks elegant enough for the weekend. To keep it quick, get a small pot of water on to boil first and then you can make the rest of the salad while your eggs are boiling. Additionally, do your best not to overcook the tuna. Frozen at sea tuna is safe to eat raw so erring on the side of undercooked rather than overcooked is definitely preferable.
Cheers friends! Sabrina
More Delicious Salad Ideas
Healthy French Asparagus And Tuna Salad Without Mayo
- 2 6 oz Ahi Tuna Steaks Boneless
- ½ teaspoon Olive Oil for brushing on tuna
- ½ teaspoon Seasoning Salt
- 2 Eggs
- 2 small New Potatoes ¾" dice
- 2 c Arugula
- 6-10 Asparagus Spears depending on size, cut in half
- 6 Cherry Tomatoes quartered
- 10 Nicoise or Mixed Hot Olives
- 1 tablespoon Shallot finely chopped
- 1 Anchovy mashed, (or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste)
- 1 tablespoon Capers
- 1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
- 2 teaspoon Sherry Vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Raw Sugar
- ¼ c Olive Oil
- S+P to taste
Prepare Salad Ingredients
- Put a small pot of water on to boil and preheat a non-stick frying pan on medium.
- Pat Tuna steaks dry with paper towel, brush very lightly with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with seasoning salt and place in frying pan once preheated. Cook 2 minutes each side for rare and up to 4 minutes per side for well done (I recommend rare). When finished, place on plate and let rest while finishing salad.
- Once water is boiling, place 2 eggs in water and turn down to simmer for 6-8 minutes depending how runny you want your egg. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggs and put in cold water over for 1 minute to stop cooking. Do not drain water.
- Place cubed potatoes into simmering water and cook for 8-10 minutes until cooked through but still firm. While potatoes are cooking, place halved asparagus spears in same pot and cook 1 minute, then remove with slotted spoon and run cold water over quickly to stop cooking. Once potatoes are done, drain in colander, discarding water.
- While ingredients are cooking make dressing. Mash Anchovy in bowl with back of fork, then mix in the rest of the dressing ingredients and whisk well.
Assemble the Salad
- Peel the eggs. On each plate, put half the arugula in the middle then surround the greens with the asparagus, potatoes, egg cut in half or quarters, tomatoes, and olives. Slice the Tuna against the grain and place on top.Drizzle the dressing over the top. The dressing makes enough for 4 so you will have more dressing than you need for this recipe so reserve the rest for another salad.