26 September 2007

Benito vs. the Hotel Room: Salade Niçoise

I'm on the road again, and found myself spending most of a Sunday afternoon engrossed in a Survivorman marathon on the Discovery Channel. For those of you not familiar with the premise, the production team drop a Canadian guy into some uninhabited environment and he lives off the land for a week. The attempts to get food and water are quite entertaining, such as trapping a packrat in the desert and eating it bones and all.

I did some survival training back in Scouts. I spent a few nights in handmade shelters of branches and leaves, have built fires using flint and steel, and have eaten a handful of live black ants (which taste like lemon drops and have a pleasing crunch). But based on my success with the hotel room osso buco, I decided to try another classic dish. This time: no stove or proper cooking utensils. My goal: Salade Niçoise.

If you're unfamiliar with the dish it's a fancy tuna salad from Nice on the southeastern tip of France. I loosely followed Anthony Bourdain's recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook, obviously reducing the quantities to feed one person. Definitely a step up from your eggs, mayo, pickles, and celery mash spread on white bread and cut into triangles. (Though when I want that at home, I tend to combine canned tuna with hot dog relish, Dijon mustard, and loads of hot sauce. Tangy, spicy, and sour rather than savory and creamy.)

In the above photo, you can see what I had at my disposal: fresh green beans, a coffee pot, some clear glass coffee cups, a new potato, tiny Niçoise olives from the deli, an egg, a bunch of green leaf lettuce, a can of tuna and a tin of anchovies, and a fork, butter knife, and corkscrew (with a small foil cutter blade--thanks again Fredric). For heat I only had a microwave.

For the eggs that are normally boiled, I found a handy microwave tip online. I used a few drops of olive oil from the can of tuna to coat the interior of the coffee cup before breaking the egg into it. Puncturing the yolk is very important. I was amazed that I was able to quickly get an egg that was perfect for the dish if somewhat oddly shaped. I was even able to do a few short bursts to create a slightly runny yolk. Heaven!

I blanched the green beans in the coffee pot by heating up water in the microwave and pouring it over the beans. I let them steep until just barely cooked and then dunked them in an ice bath to preserve the green color and crispness. (Hotels have ample quantities of ice!) The single new potato (and I wasn't embarrassed to buy just one) was pricked with the fork and roasted on top of the paper lid of a hotel water glass in the microwave until cooked. The little heirloom tomato was sliced using the foil knife on the corkscrew.

Here's the finished product after assembling the various components. I was really quite surprised at how delicious it turned out The individual components maintained their flavors, and the beans were amazing--a sweet and crisp counterpoint to the rich texture of the tuna. The egg was great and this is a quick and easy technique I might use in the future when I just need a single boiled egg for something.

And if you don't like anchovies, I say give 'em a chance. They're salty and rich and impart an amazing quality to the dishes that include them. Plus the little bones are a good source of calcium, though I added a bit through the wedge of Manchego that I nibbled on along with the salad.

For the wine, I picked up a bottle of the 2006 Toad Hollow Chardonnay from Mendocino County, California. Unoaked, fruity, and full-bodied, but still dry and easy drinking. I've enjoyed the other selections from Toad Hollow and this one didn't let me down.

Overall I rate this a success. It was delicious, nutritious, and fun to put together.

10 comments:

fredric koeppel said...

You are freakin' amazing. Perhaps you should start a new blog just about cooking in hotel rooms, preferably the classic dishes you have done so far. www.hotelroomcooks.com?

Allen said...

Ben,
Great post and I support Fredric that it is time move forward with a web site. Downloads for PDA's and Video Ipods would be good.

Fredric Koeppel said...

oh, video, definitely!

Big Mike said...

Video wait! What about the food channel right behind that insipid Rachel Ray... Or more importantly in Front of, my favorite Alton Brown. I agree with all having spent more than the alloted time in hotel rooms you have taken this to a level never seen before...
Keep it up my friend and if you ever need another corkscrew call me I have them with full blown knifes on them!!!

Amanda said...

I found this post via your comment at Fine Furious Life. Brilliantly done. Did you make a dressing to drizzle over your salad, or did you simply enjoy it with the oil from the tuna?

Benito said...

If you'll look in the background of the first photo, you'll see a bottle of Paul Newman's Balsamic Vinaigrette. I make my own dressings at home all the time but for this one I felt it was an allowable substitution--I felt better about leaving behind a bottle of salad dressing than bottles of oil and vinegar and mustard and whatnot.

Amanda said...

Aah--I see it now; I should have looked more closely. Really this is a novel idea and certainly interesting for the many, many frequent travellers out there.

Michele said...

Very impressive, Benito. I've left details of your next mission in the comments section of my original post: http://finefuriouslife.com/2008/07/14/salade-nicoise-a-ma-facon

Ramki said...

Hi Benito,
It is nice bumping into a fellow Hotel room chef :)

Maybe you'll find this One page cookbook helpful during your next hotel trip...

http://ramkicooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/cooking-in-hotel-room-or-just-about.html

Sam Klingberg said...

I. Am. Not. Worthy.

- Sam from Brokewino.com