Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Salad Nicoise


INGREDIENTS (serves two; this recipe is a simplified/modified version of the one found in Cooks Illustrated from July 1st, 2002):

(hint: you're going to be boiling/steaming quite a few things, so reuse your water--hard boil your eggs and then set them in an ice bath, then boil the potatoes and put them on a board to cool, then set your steamer above the same water and steam the beans)

(for the salad)
1 8-oz. tuna steak, rubbed with salt, pepper, chili powder, and ground coriander
4 large eggs, hard boiled and quartered
5 small new red potatoes, boiled
2 tbsp. dry vermouth
1 handful trimmed green beans, steamed and then rinsed in cold water
1 small head fresh garden lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces and washed thoroughly
2 small vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper
1 very small red onion, quartered and sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup nicoise olives, chopped

(for the vinaigrette)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium shallot, minced very fine
1 tbsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. minced fresh basil
2 tsp. minced fresh marjoram (you can substitute 1 tsp. fresh oregano if you like)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey or agave

(for the beer: 1 bottle Sam Adams Imperial White)

1) Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet with 1 tbsp. olive oil until the oil is very hot, nearly smoking. Sear the tuna for a little over one minute on each side and then remove to a board to slice.
2) When the boiled potatoes are cool enough to handle, toss with the vermouth, add salt and pepper, and set aside.
3) Whisk all the ingredients in the vinaigrette together and taste, adjusting seasoning.
4) Combine the green beans, lettuce, and red onion in a bowl and toss with 3/4 of the vinaigrette. Plate your greens.
5) Toss the potatoes with the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange the potatoes, sliced tomatoes, olives, and eggs around the edges of the salad and season the tomatoes and eggs with a little salt and pepper. Finish by placing the cooled tuna slices over the greens.
6) Open Sam Adams Imperial White.
7) Enjoy together.

Samuel Adams--the regular version--is just really low on my personal list of beers. I think Dave Chappelle's "Samuel L. Jackson: It's My F&%$ing Beer" would probably taste better, if it existed. But we cannot overstate how successful this pairing was. Sam Imperial White is a 10.3% alcohol witbeer brewed with half wheat and half barley malts, enhanced with classic witbeer spices like coriander and orange peel, with a good dose of smooth banana sweetness on the palate. It's actually quite silky and fruity for such a high alcohol brew, which makes it deceptively drinkable, not to say dangerous. The dressing for the nicoise salad is a nice tart lemony flavor balanced by loads of herbs, and when nibbled in conjunction with the almost creamy candied orange notes of this beer, both the food and the drink taste better. Exactly what we want in a pairing. HUZZAH.

By the way, Sam Adams had been putting out more and more specialty beers in recent times, even apart from their seasonal offerings like the Cherry Wheat, for example, and if the Imperial White is any indication, they're worth a taste-gander. It would be kind of silly to call them a microbrewery--Samuel Adams is actually the largest of all American-owned beer brewers following the InBev Belgian takeover of Anheuser-Busch--but one thing Sam Adams has been doing for a long time effectively is producing drinkable high-alcohol concoctions. (Their brew Utopias was record-setting at 27% abv.)

We're growing lettuce heads for the first time this year, and they're frigging cool. I always supposed that lettuce heads in a garden would be just like the ones that come from a store--you know, when they've grown big enough they're pulled entirely out of the ground, and then it's fare-thee-well-lettuce-plant-I-shall-dress-thee-for-thy-tomb-in-my-dark-stomach. And my garden would have a sad hole in it. I thought this because I'm an American and we don't grow our own food in these parts. Food comes from a box, if at all possible, or arrives on a plate in front of me carried by a gent in a black apron already cooked. (I love when that happens.) But you can actually pluck the biggest leaves one by one from the base of the plant and the stem will just get longer, growing and producing more greenery. Some of my lettuces are getting absurdly long, curvy stalks by now, which is not only delicious but kind of surreal and amusing to look at. My lettuces, as I milk their worth, are starting to look like Dr. Seuss plants. An unlooked-for benefit, and one I'll repeat next year.

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