Sears Chef Challenge – Week Number 2 – Brea, CA
We had another fun weekend with the Sears Chef Challenge. This weekend was event number two. We were at the Sears in Brea, California. My thanks to store Manager Phil, Operations Manager Darlene Lima, Sebastian and the Sears Blue Crew for a great setup and successful event! If you missed the first post, please check it out for details on the Sears Chef Challenge and be sure to visit the website for recipes, games, information and an update on the competition.
Competing for Charity
I’m competing for two wonderful charitable organizations. Monetary donations will go the Saddleback Church Food Pantry feeding hungry families in our community and appliances will go to The Sheepfold, an organization serving abused women and their children in Orange County.
These two organizations can only win if you vote for me on the Sears Chef Challenge website. Voting starts June 26 through July 10 so please pass on the word! You can vote once a day!
The next event, number three on June 5, will be our own recipe. The chefs do not yet know the ingredients we will be allowed to use. The ingredients are being voted on by visitors to the Sears Chef Challenge website. Check it out and vote for your favorite ingredient list. I’m voting for pork tenderloin or shrimp!
This Week’s Recipe
Thanks again to Chef Rachelle Boucher for her recipe. Rachelle authors the fun food and cooking blog Drawn to the Kitchen with Chef Rachelle. Be sure to check out her blog.
French-Inspired Nicoise Salad
Pronounced “knee-SWAHZ”, the Nicoise Salad is one of the great classic salads along with the Caesar, Cobb, Louis, Italian Panzanella, and Waldorf.
The Nicoise Salad originated in the city of Nice, France. Nice is France’s second-largest city and queen of the Cote d’Azur – the “blue coast” along the Mediterranean Sea in the beautiful south of France.
Main Dish Salad – A Meal Unto Itself
The salad incorporates fresh salad greens, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, haricot vert (French baby green beans), tiny black cured Nicoise olives, and traditionally tuna. The salad is dressed with Dijon vinaigrette with capers, another very Mediterranean ingredient.
A Nicoise is a hearty main course salad that gives every diner a bounty of enjoyment. I’ve made Nicoise Salads for picnicking and tailgating before summer concerts. The perfect picnic entrée, all of the elements are easy to prepare, package and transport. All you have to do is assemble at the site on a big platter and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Offer extra dressing on the side and a fresh loaf of crusty French bread, a little dessert and you have one fantastic picnic. But don’t save this just for picnics, try it tonight or the next time you have friends over for dinner. They will be impressed! Like it’s said, we eat with our eyes first, and this salad is filled with lots of color and texture not to mention fabulous flavors.
I’ve usually made my Nicoise with seared Ahi tuna. Rachelle’s recipe uses smoked salmon, another one of my favorites. It was a terrific twist on the classic recipe and even easier to prepare as you can purchase good quality smoked salmon almost everywhere these days. If you have a smoker, try smoking your own salmon.
For this salad I used smoked salmon from the Honey Smoked Fish Company. It’s available at a few Costco stores in California and Texas, at Bristol Farms or online from their website starting with a 4 pound package. If that is more than you think you can use, get a friend to go in with you and split an order. I used the Lemon Pepper flavor for this salad.
They offer smoked trout as well, which would be fantastic on a Nicoise Salad. If you are not a fish fan, try making a Nicoise with chilled and sliced grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast marinated in olive oil, lemon and herbs.
My Recipe Notes
For my Nicoise salad I chose to use the baby green beans, but Rachelle’s recipe notes asparagus as an excellent alternative. For the green beans, blanch them in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes, then chill in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and keep the green beans a nice bright green. Drain and chill. If you prefer to use asparagus, Rachelle notes you can blanch them as well. Another option is to roast or grill the asparagus. Depending on the thickness of the stems, roast at 425 degrees on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet for 3-4 minutes and test for tenderness.
For potatoes I chose Dutch Baby Golds. You can use baby red potatoes or small fingerling potatoes as Rachelle lists. For the olives, pitted Greek Kalamata olives work very well if you can’t find Nicoise olives. Nicoise are traditional but they are very small and do have the pit.
Rachelle notes a one pot cooking method for the beans, potatoes and eggs. If you want to do your eggs separately, see my post here for how to make perfect hard-boiled eggs.
The vinaigrette is absolutely terrific! Try it with any salad for a nice change. It also works well with grilled or roast chicken and as a dressing for a cold potato-style salad. Vinaigrettes are not just for salads. Use them as you would many other dressings and sauces. You’ve got to try this salad.
Smoked Salmon Nicoise Salad
- Vinaigrette makes extra
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot approximately 1?2 of one medium shallot
- 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1/4 cup good quality champagne or white balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup good quality lemon or mild olive oil
- 2 tablespoons capers drained and rinsed
- 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme or lemon thyme
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Chopped chives and/ or basil chiffonade or leaves to garnish
- 8 ounces spring mix butter lettuce leaves or a combination of both, washed and dried
- 8 ounces baby green beans
- 12 ounces small baby potatoes all the same size, I use Dutch Babies or tiny red potatoes
- 4 hardboiled eggs
- 7 oz . dry cured black olives or Niçoise style olives
- 16 – 20 red cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half
- 12-16 ounces Smoked Salmon or use your favorite protein, or large flaked white albacore tuna
- One pot cooking method
- In a large, deep pot bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to a boil. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath: in a large bowl, add about 3 cups of water to about 4 cups of ice. Set aside. Drop green beans into boiling water, stir and cook 5 minutes.
- Quickly scoop green beans from pot and into the ice bath. Next, in the same boiling water, place potatoes into boiling water, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10-12 minutes until they can be pierced through with a paring knife. Remove potatoes with a strainer spoon when they are done. Cool and cut in half if they are small.
- In a medium bowl blend shallot, mustard and vinegar. Slowly drizzle oil into mixture and whisk until emulsified. Add capers, parsley, thyme and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a very large bowl, lightly toss greens with just enough of the vinaigrette to evenly coat the leaves. Arrange the beans and potatoes in groups on a large platter or on individual plates. Mound greens in the center of plates or platter. Lightly toss the tomatoes with a small amount of vinaigrette. Arrange tomatoes and olives in groups around the greens on the plates. Add egg halves to each plate. Season eggs and potatoes with salt and pepper. Finish the salad with large chunks of smoked salmon. Drizzle a little dressing over the salmon, beans and potatoes. Top with chives and/or chopped basil leaves.