A Bright and Briny French Sauce to Put on Everything

July 14, 2016

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.

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. Photo 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.

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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.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emily
  • Joseph Freed
    Joseph Freed
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Emily July 15, 2016
Funny, I make this all the time, but in my house it's Puttanesca.
Alexandra S. July 15, 2016
It's so similar to puttanesca — it's essentially the same but without anchovies and the addition of lemon, though I imagine there are versions of each that include each of these ingredients. I was looking at Nice on the map after the sad news last night, which made me realize the similarities in the ingredients made sense—Nice is so close to the Italian border. Anyway, I love puttanesca, too!
Emily July 16, 2016
Thank you for that!
Joseph F. July 14, 2016
This might be good with chicken, too.
Alexandra S. July 14, 2016
would be so good!