Wednesday, June 22, 2011

French Potato Salad

French Potato Salad

The Mother of All Potato Salads

One nice thing about potato salad is that it’s, well . . . a salad.  And the classic French version is a very basic salad indeed.

Think of the classic green salad.  The formula is uncomplicated and endlessly adaptable:  Take lettuce, toss with oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper.  Perhaps add shallots or other aromatics for flavoring (fresh herbs go well).  That’s it.

Now, replace the lettuce with warm sliced potatoes and you have — French Potato Salad.  Simple, easy, and quick to prepare.

What’s more, once you know how to make this classic recipe, you’ll have the foundation for every other type of potato salad out there (mayonnaise, mustard, whatever).  The basic technique is always the same — you just add layers of flavoring and additional ingredients.

French Potato Salad

Recipe: French Potato Salad

This potato salad is best served warm or at room temperature. If you prepare it ahead, of course you will refrigerate it. Remove it from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving so it can come to room temperature.

This salad will keep fine in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for a day or two. (It’s still safe to eat for a few days after that, but the quality will have diminished.)

There are hundreds of recipes for this potato salad, but they’re all quite similar. This recipe was adapted from James Peterson’s Glorious French Food, though the basic method owes a lot to Julia Child’s recipe from The Way to Cook, too. This recipe will serve 6 to 8 as a side dish, and can easily be doubled.

  • 2½ pounds cooked warm potatoes cut into ¼” slices (from the Potato Salad Basics Recipe ; see note for type of potatoes to use).
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons finely minced shallots (about 2 shallots)
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine (see notes for alternatives, including reserved water from cooking the potatoes)
  • ~¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • ~ 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (I prefer Italian, but curly works too)
  • 4 - 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (add more if you like intense olive-oil flavor)

French Potato Salad

  1. Cook potatoes using the Potato Salad Basics Recipe. Place warm potatoes in a large bowl (wider is better than deep). Add minced shallots, 3 tablespoons of dry white wine (see notes for alternatives), and about ¼ cup white wine vinegar (you can tweak this later to adjust the taste). Add parsley, salt, and pepper, and gently mix everything together. You want the warm potatoes to absorb the liquids and the flavor of the shallots and seasoning.
  2. Let this mixture sit for about 10 minutes, tossing gently 2 or 3 times (gently because you don’t want to break up the potatoes). Ideally, the potatoes will absorb all of the liquid, though a small amount may remain at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. After 10 minutes, add about ¾ of the olive oil. Gently mix, and taste. Adjust the quantity of oil to suit your taste (you may also find you’d like some additional vinegar). Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve.

This is the second post in our Potato Salad Fortnight series. The first was Potato Salad Basics Recipe. Coming next week will be American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad and German Potato Salad.
  • Classic French Potato Salad is flavored with wine. If you like the flavor of wine but don’t want to open a bottle just for this salad, substitute about 2 tablespoons of dry vermouth and a tablespoon or two of potato cooking water from the Potato Salad Basics Recipe. Alternatively, you can substitute cooking water for all the wine; or chicken or vegetable stock for the wine; or use a mix of chicken stock and potato cooking water.
  • Why add liquid? Because the warm potato slices will absorb it, and it will enhance their flavor.  After properly cooking the potatoes, this is the second "secret" to making potato salad.
  • Why potato cooking liquid? Because you salted it well when cooking the potatoes and some of the potato starch leeched out into the water — giving it a mild, pleasant flavor. You’ll achieve better flavor with wine, dry vermouth, or chicken stock, but use the potato cooking water if that’s all you have.
  • This recipe specifies potato slices. You can also use potato cubes. I very much prefer slices here, but try both and see which pleases you more.
  • Which potato to use in this recipe? Any of the waxy potatoes we discussed in the Potato Salad Basics Recipe will work well, but my favorite for this recipe is Yukon Gold.
  • Some recipes (including Peterson’s) suggest mixing the flavoring ingredients into a vinaigrette, then tossing the potatoes in that. I prefer to add the oil at the end because I think I get a better flavor by giving the potatoes time to first absorb the other liquids. When we discuss German Potato Salad next week, however, we’ll season the potatoes with hot vinaigrette.

Salade Niçoise

How the French Eat Potato Salad

The French seem to serve potato salad much as we do: as a side dish to accompany a wide range of meals. But there are some dishes that simply call out for potato salad.

It’s essential in most recipes for Salade Niçoise (there is some controversy in France about whether potato salad should be included in the “authentic” version of this popular dish, but we’ll go into that when we discuss this recipe in the near future).

French Potato Salad also is a traditional accompaniment for sausages, salamis, terrines, and pâtés — what the French call Charcuterie. Saucisson Chaud à la Lyonnaise (poached sausage with hot potato salad) is famous throughout France. Although charcuterie often involves beef and other types of meat, traditionally it is known for its extensive and imaginative use of pork.

But I always say I don’t care what kind of meat is in my charcuterie, just as long as there’s plenty of it and it’s paired with French Potato Salad.

To which Mrs. Kitchen Riffs replies, “C'est parce que tu es un cochon, mon cher” in her impeccable French.

I’m not sure what she’s saying. But I don’t think it’s an acknowledgement of my discerning taste or abstemious nature.

You may also enjoy reading about:

How to Cook Potatoes for Potato Salad
Salade Niçoise
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Preparing Hard-Boiled Eggs
German Potato Salad


Susan said...

The potato salad looks delicious! Looking forward to the other ones, as well. Also looking forward to the promised salade nicoise! Beautiful photo's!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Susan, thanks for the compliment! I hope to post about Salade Niçoise sometime in July. Hope you enjoy the posts about American and German potato salad as well. Thanks again.

Unknown said...

I have just stumbled across your potato lesson while searching for a simple watermelon pickle rind recipe for the refrigerator, looking forward to trying the french potato version as we try to eliminate the mayo alot now due to health concerns over the period of time left at room temperature, thank for your straight forward uncomplicated techniques

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Christina, I think this is my favorite potato salad. Very easy to make, and the flavor is outstanding. We had it again last weekend! Thanks for the comment.