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May 11, 2021
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WINE WITH…Tuna Niçoise

When we hear the word “Niçoise,” we tend to think of the classic Salade Niçoise, but in this instance I’m suggesting a warm dish, not a salad.  In both cases the word “Niçoise” is a reference to the ingredients of the cuisine that has been long associated with Nice, the culinary star of Provence.

Traditional Salade Niçoise includes seafood, notably tuna (canned or fresh), along with tomatoes, local black olives and olive oil.  Potatoes, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, and lettuce are frequently included in the salad with everything tossed in a classic oil-and-vinegar dressing.

Tuna Niçoise borrows a handful of the salad’s ingredients although lettuce has no place here.  The dish is quick and easy to assemble.   The tuna is seared, then immediately sliced and paired with the mildness of steamed or simmered potatoes, plus glossy, briny black Niçoise olives to add their pungent note.  I’ve included asparagus in this recipe because, well, why not—it’s the season, after all.  If you don’t like asparagus substitute green beans, or perhaps some perfectly ripe tomatoes, but don’t overload the dish with a ton of other ingredients.  And don’t forget a final dousing of olive oil, which binds together all the various flavors and textures.  

Tuna Niçoise

Serves 4

You can just throw the tuna steaks straight on the grill or sear them in a sturdy pan if you like, but if you have time let them luxuriate first in a discreet marinade to add subtle flavor and texture.

4 fresh tuna steaks
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil (optional)
1 bunch cooked asparagus cut in bite-sized pieces
4-8 medium size potatoes such as Yukon gold, red bliss or other medium sized potatoes
one cup pitted Niçoise olives
minced cilantro and sliced scallions (or substitute parsley and/or chives)
Place the tuna in a shallow bowl.  Mix together the soy sauce, about one tablespoon olive oil, the soy sauce and the sesame oil.  Pour this mixture over the tuna steaks, turning them over so that all sides are coated with marinade.  Alternatively, put the tuna steaks in a plastic bag, add the marinade and seal the bag.  Either way, refrigerate the tuna for about 30-60 minutes.
Scrub the potatoes, place them in a pan and cover with water.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until they are tender.  Drain the water off and run cold water over them until they are just cool enough to peel (alternatively serve them with the skins on).  Cut in coarse chunks.

To cook the tuna on the stove, heat a sturdy pan such as a cast iron skillet and add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, carefully lower the tuna steaks into the pan in a single layer.  For very rare tuna cook the steaks about one minute on each side.  For medium rare, about 2 minutes on each side.*

To serve, arrange the ingredients on a large platter or in individual bowls.  Drizzle a little olive oil over everything, add salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle the cilantro mix over it all.

* I have experimented with cooking the tuna a couple of minutes longer until it is lightly rosy pink.  Since it continues to cook after being removed from the heat by the time it’s ready to eat these steaks have pretty much lost all their pink color, but contrary to what I’ve read elsewhere I have not found this tuna to be tough.  A little dry, yes, in the same way a well-done beef steak might be.  While I prefer my tuna served rare, I think people who like beef (or any other meat) well done will find this tuna delicious.  
The Wines:

Whether you prefer red, white or pink wine this dish may surprise you by how well it will pair with whichever color wine you prefer.  The single common trait shared by all three of the wines recommended below is balance.  Highly acidic whites that might be delicious with oysters may disappoint here, as will pink wine that is overtly sweet.  Big reds that are decidedly oaky and/or alcoholic might shine with beef or lamb but will likely overwhelm the tuna’s relatively delicate flavors.  Each of the following wines, however, will match up well with the tuna.

Oyster Bay, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2019 ($18):  Enticingly fragrant, with overtones of citrus and a sublimely refreshing character, and with no oaky distraction or alcoholic overload, this Pinot Gris is a wonderful companion to the dish.

Belguardo, Maremma Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Rosé 2019 (Taub Family, $15):  This blend of equal parts Syrah and Sangiovese is a lively and elegant pink wine packed with flavor.  The wine is perfectly balanced to showcase the tuna.

Maison Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages (Burgundy, France) 2018 ($17):  Made from 100% Gamay grapes, this light bodied classic Beaujolais red wine has mouth-filling ripe cherry and berry flavors.  You may be surprised to discover how well this fairly light red wine suits the dish.  

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