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A Bright and Briny French Sauce to Put on Everything

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It’s rare for a sauce to be so amenable—to be festive enough for company, but easy enough for a weeknight; to be as well suited for meat and fish as for pasta and grains; to be exceptionally tasty when made with the best ingredients, but perfectly delicious with subprime ones, too.

But sauce Niçoise, a French mix of tomatoes, olives, capers, and garlic, is all of these things.

Fish with Sauce Niçoise
Fish with Sauce Niçoise

This one comes from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers, which recommends pairing it with fish, shrimp, or scallops, or stirring it into potato or bean salads. It comes together in five minutes, but with its colors and textures, looks far more impressive than the effort it requires. And I’ve found it equally enjoyable with grilled skirt steak as with pan-fried cod—though as the season progresses (and the tomatoes get better and better), I imagine it playing a more assertive role atop creamy polenta, pasta, and roasted or grilled vegetables, such as cauliflower and eggplant.

The makings of sauce Niçoise, left, and pan-seared cod to put it on, right. Photos by Alexandra Stafford

Sauce Niçoise, which originates from the south of France, can be made in countless ways, but the key with this one is to cook it minimally, just long enough for the garlic to mellow and the taut skins of the tomatoes to soften. The sauce should taste fresh but not raw.

The best part, as you might imagine, are the dregs, the bits of burst capers, crushed olives, and collapsed tomatoes melding with the juices and oils released from the meat or vegetables. These morsels demand slices of crusty bread, which will succeed at wiping plates clean, and most importantly, encourage lingering at the table.

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Fish with Sauce Niçoise

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Serves 2
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 6-ounce cod (or other) fish fillets, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Neutral oil for frying
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 lemon, halved, plus more for serving

What sauce—creamy, herby, vinegary, or otherwise—has become a regular part of your cooking routine? Share yours in the comments.

Tags: Niçoise