07 April 2013

BWR Classic: Benito vs. the Hotel Room: Salade Niçoise

I've gotten a lot of new readers in the past couple of weeks, and while I will always continue to write three new posts a week, I'm thinking about dusting off some of my favorite older content for those other days. This is a bit of an experiment, and let me know what you think.

This post was part of a fun series about cooking in hotel rooms, from 2007 when I was a traveling corporate trainer. Enjoy!

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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 drops 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.

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