What is pissaladière?
Pissaladière is a traditional recipe originally from Nice in the South of France. It is composed with a thick pizza dough, usually topped with caramelized onions, black olives, and anchovies.
The history of the pissaladière is closely linked to that of pissalat. The pissalat is a purée of salted fish, which gave its name to the specialty nissarde. It is made from fry of sardines and anchovies called poutines. The origin of the pissalat dates back to the 1st century AD.
What is the origin of pissalat?
There are different versions of the pissalat (from Nissart peis salat, meaning “salted fish”) across the Mediterranean basin. Very similar to the mélets, it can also be compared to the garum or the hallex from the Romans.
The mélets are a specialty of Martigues, in the Bouches du Rhône. They are prepared from small decaying anchovies. This condiment which is presented in the form of dough has accents of pepper and fennel. Since antiquity, a preparation close to the mélets was popular at the port of Frejus.
Hallex and garum are products of Roman culture. The hallex was the result of the first stage of decomposition of the fish which was put in brine during the manufacture of the garum before it reached its liquid phase. The result is a condiment in the form of an odor paste extremely strong and more affordable than the garum, whose prices would compete with the caviar today.
The garum was obtained after the total decomposition of intestines and other fish waste, put in brine until putrefaction. This condiment was in the form of juice, a kind of “fish liqueur”, which accompanied a good number of Roman dishes. This luxurious condiment, also called liquamen, and of which a few drops sufficed, gave the cuisine of the time a flavored salt. Pompeii (Roman Empire), Leptis (Republic of Carthage) and Clazomenes (Greek Empire) were cities known for their garum production. Moreover, many amphorae (urcei) which contained garum were found in Pompeii.
How to make pissalat?
Authentic pissalat is a sort of puree. It is prepared on the basis of a maceration with poutine salt (fry of sardines and anchovies) whose fishing remains very regulated (from May to August). This condiment originally from Nice comes in the form of a paste of gray color and quite liquid. It is thicker when it is prepared with palaye (palaille or blanchaille) which are young sardines a few centimeters and still white, and which are generally used after the season (around September or October).
The traditional method of preparing pissalat is to place fish, salt (about 200 to 250 g per kilo of fish), and aromatics (laurel leaves, thyme, fennel seeds, oregano, marjoram, savory, peppercorns ) in alternating layers in barrels or stoneware jars.
A weighted wooden circle of a weight is then positioned above the pot, which is placed in a cool place. Towards the third day, the blood and the oily juice brought to the surface are removed. On the seventh day, the same operation is performed. On the last day of maceration (typically after a few weeks), the substance obtained is sieved to retain the scales and any salt-resistant pieces of ridges. It is then diluted with cloves or nutmeg, covered with a thin layer of olive oil, before being poured into hermetic jars to keep it.
The pissalat is used as a condiment to enhance the flavor of cooked or raw vegetables, fish, as well as cold meat, or soups. It can also be incorporated into mayonnaise or a dressing.
What is the origin of pissaladiere?
It would seem that the pissaladière originates from a Genoese recipe, from Imperia (Italy), from the end of the 15th century. Piscialandrea, the first version of the Italian pizza, was named in honor of Andrea Doria, a great condottiere and admiral of Genoa from the 14th and 15th centuries.
The major difference compared to the pissaladière is that piscialandrea is prepared with tomatoes and garlic. Just like socca (farinata) or fougasse (focaccia), this other recipe of Genoese origin has been handed down from generation to generation to the families of Nice.
How to make pissaladiere
More and more, the pissalat is replaced by anchovy cream or anchovy fillets. Finally, it is customary to add to the pissaladière black olives, the caillettes (small black olives of Nice).
It is how these old condiments, then pissalat, have been consumed for several centuries in the region of Nice. Today, as fishing of “dressed poutine” (young fish starting to be covered with scales, i.e. about to become adult) is banned or highly regulated, a substitute has been proposed to be made from brined adult anchovies giving a more pinkish purée. Pissalat is now considered an “ultra specialty” due to legal obligation. This means that only the municipalities of Nice, Antibes, Menton and Cros-De-Cagnes have an authorization for the fishing of baby anchovies and sardines.
It is now accepted that the preparation of pissaladière can be done without pissalat, while preserving its authentic character, as confirmed by the technical committee awarding the label “Cuisine Nissarde” (Cuisine from Nice). In the absence of this rare product, anchovies (or anchovy paste) are placed on the bed of onions.
No pissalat in my pissaladière but I will definitely have to try this condiment on my next visit to the French Riviera. I love anchovies, whether on pizza or prepared in boquerones, so needless to say that I loved this specialty from Nice. I savored this pissaladière with a good chill rosé during my father and my brother’s visit over the summer!
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in French cuisine, Chef Simon. You can find Chef Simon on his website Chef Simon – Le Plaisir de Cuisiner.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1¼ cup warm water
- 4 lb white onions , thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon dried savory
- 1 sprig oregano
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 20 black olives
- 1 dozen anchovy fillets
- Dilute the yeast in a little warm water.
- Meanwhile, mix the flour with the salt, then add the yeast. Pour the warm water and mix.
- Then, pour the olive oil and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is homogeneous and forms a ball that pulls away from the edges of the bowl.
- Cover and allow to rest for an hour in a warm place.
- In a large pan, cook the sliced onions, in olive oil with the unpeeled whole garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf, savory and oregano. Cook on low heat, stirring regularly for at least 1h30, until you get a kind of compote.
- One hour into the cooking of the onions, spread the dough to the size of a baking sheet. Place the dough on the baking sheet and cover with a slightly damp cloth. Let rest for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 410 F.
- Remove garlic cloves and aromatic sprigs from the cooked onions. Add a very small of amount of salt (anchovies and olives are already salted). Spread the onions on the dough with a skimmer or slotted spoon to allow the oil to drain.
- Decorate with filets of anchovy and black olives.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Pour in a drizzle of olive oil (optional) and serve with a chill rosé wine.