Nicoise salad is a famous French salad made with green beans, hard boiled eggs, potatoes and tuna. One day we wondered how it would taste with a Cajun twist, using blackened catfish in place of the tuna, and changing the flavours of the salad just a bit. Afterall, Cajuns are descendants of Acadians, who were early French settlers in Eastern Canada; their cuisine is a fusion of French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean flavours, so it seemed to us that a nicoise salad would lend itself perfectly to a little “Cajunization”. And it did. This remains one of our favourite meals for a hot summer’s evening – eaten on the patio with a glass of Perrier and lime…fantastique!
Warning – this is not for the faint-hearted. Blackening spice is extremely hot and even when used with moderation, can trigger a heart attack in the unsuspecting. If you don’t have a tolerance for spice, don’t ditch the recipe altogether; buy some off-the-shelf Cajun marinade for your fish and get a taste for the meal nonetheless. But if you do like spicy food, then you are in luck! Normally, blackened fish is cooked on a cast iron pan over extremely high heat on the bar b q. But we also like it cooked for a few minutes in foil, and then directly on the grill for another minute or two. If you don’t want to use a lot of oil, then the latter is recommended.
I’ve replaced the typical basil used in a nicoise salad with fresh tarragon. I absolutely love the mildly licoricey flavour of this herb when fresh. But if you really don’t like it, then by all means, use basil.
For the salad:
Baby romaine or other lettuce leaves
Fresh green beans (1 cup), julienned
2 cups halved baby red potatoes
½ cucumber, sliced
20 pitted kalamata olives (not canned!)
1 hard boiled egg
5 stalks of fresh tarragon
3-4 plum tomatoes, sliced into sixths, lengthwise
12 asparagus stalks, brushed lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper
For the dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 clove minced garlic
Generous spritz of lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
Sald and pepper to taste
For the fish:
4 filets of fresh catfish
Juice of ½ lemon
1 – 2 Tbsp white flour
1 tbsp garlic powder
1tbsp onion powder
2 tsp white paper (don’t skip this – it’s essential)
2 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
(combine all but the flour in a small container and shake)
- Boil the potatoes until tender, and steam the green beans. When both are done, allow to cool, or gently toss under cold water if you are pressed for time.
- Arrange the salad with lettuce on the bottom, and tarragon leaves mixed in, followed by beans and potatoes, then cucumber, tomatoes, hard boiled egg and olives
- Grill asparagus on a heated grill for only 2-3 minutes; be careful not to over cook
- Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
- Spritz a lemon over your catfish filets and then turn the filets through the flour first, then the blackening spice, coating them evenly (you don’t need to use all the blackening spice – in fact, don’t use it all).
- Wrap filets in tin foil and place on barbecue for approximately 5 minutes. Un wrap them and grill them for another 2 or until fish flakes and is cooked through centre
- Add grilled asparagus and whole salon filets on places, and then add salad, spooning over the dressing
Here’s a nice vegetarian alternative, if catfish is not your thing. Instead of using baby red potatoes, use large white baking potatoes. Slice them into potato wedges, toss them in 2 tbsp olive oil and then the blackening spices. Grill them on the barbecue or cook them on a cookie sheet in the oven until soft and tender. Serve them over the salad in lieu of the fish.