A LIGHTER FRENCH TAKE ON AN AMERICAN CLASSIC
No picnic or summer cookout is complete without a big bowl of potato salad. Creamy and cool, it’s the perfect side to barbecue, fried chicken, and almost anything from the grill. But when you taste this mayo-heavy salad on its own—that is, without a forkful of brisket or a bite of fried chicken—it doesn’t have all that much personality. You mostly taste the rich dressing. The potatoes offer up their crumbly texture but not much in the way of actual flavor.
But potato salad doesn’t have to be bland, right? It must be possible to prepare the potatoes so their flavor is more present in this dish. After all, potatoes are boiled for many other dishes (think mashed potatoes) and still retain their earthy, sweet flavor. The problem isn’t the cooking method. It’s the temperature (chilled foods often taste quite dull) and the flavor-deadening mayonnaise dressing.
To create a more versatile (and flavorforward) potato salad, one that would work just as well with a grilled steak as a piece of fish, we looked to France. In Parisian bistros, potato salad is tossed with a lively herb and mustard vinaigrette. Not only is this approach so much lighter, but the bright vinaigrette also does a better job of flavoring the salad. It infuses the potatoes rather than coating them.
This style of potato salad is served warm or at room temperature so there’s no flavor-dulling from a trip to the fridge. And no chilling means French potato salad can be ready in the time it takes to light the grill and cook dinner. We suspect that once you try the French approach to this American classic, you will be hooked.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Slice and Boil
Sliced red potatoes emerge from the cooking water with their skins intact. They have a clean (not starchy) taste, are evenly cooked, and hold together perfectly to make an attractive salad without torn skins or broken pieces.
Ramp Up the Vinegar
Classic vinaigrette recipes use a tame 1 part vinegar to 4 parts oil, but bland potatoes can handle extra acid, so it’s best to go for 1 part vinegar to just 3 parts oil. Champagne vinegar adds sharp, bright flavor notes but white wine vinegar works well, too. Mustard helps emulsify the vinaigrette and adds a warm tang.
Save Some Cooking Water
Dressing potatoes with vinaigrette alone can yield a dry salad. Some recipes add chicken stock or wine. We take a cue from Julia Child and use some of the potato water from the pot. It’s nicely seasoned and readily available.
Blanch Out the Bite
Raw garlic is too pungent a flavor for this delicate potato salad. Blanching the garlic clove before adding it to the dressing tones it down. And you can blanch the garlic right in the pot with the potatoes.
Spread and Dress
After the potatoes have been thoroughly drained, spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle them with the vinaigrette. Spreading out the potatoes allows them to cool off a bit, preventing residual cooking and potential mushiness. It also allows us to get the warm potatoes to soak up the vinaigrette without damaging the slices by tossing them.
Shower with Herbs
Once the potato slices have absorbed the vinaigrette, transfer them to a wide, shallow serving bowl. Finish the potatoes with lots of chopped soft green herbs and a minced shallot and walk straight to the table instead of the fridge.
Poaching the garlic and then dressing the hot potatoes are two secrets to this bistro classic.
French Potato Salad with Mustard and Herbs
- 10 minutes to prep potatoes and garlic
- 15 minutes to cook potatoes and blanch garlic (time will vary depending on how quickly water comes to a boil)
- 5 minutes to make dressing and drizzle over potatoes
- 10 minutes to let potatoes absorb dressing and cool
- 5 minutes to finish salad
- Skewer for blanching garlic
- Paring knife for testing potatoes for doneness
- Rimmed baking sheet for cooling and dressing potatoes
Substitutions & Variations
- If fresh chervil isn’t available, substitute an additional ½ tablespoon minced parsley and an additional ½ teaspoon minced tarragon.
- In addition to the variations listed, other possible additions to this salad include thinly sliced fennel, diced and seeded tomatoes, and chopped olives.
For best flavor, serve the salad warm.
- 2 pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and threaded on skewer
- 1½ tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chervil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
- Place potatoes and salt in large saucepan and add water to cover by 1 inch; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Lower skewered garlic into simmering water and partially blanch, about 45 seconds. Immediately run garlic under cold running water to stop cooking; remove garlic from skewer and set aside. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm (thin-bladed paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potato slice with no resistance), about 5 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup cooking water, then drain potatoes. Arrange hot potatoes close together in single layer on rimmed baking sheet.
- Press garlic through garlic press or mince by hand. Whisk garlic, reserved potato cooking water, vinegar, mustard, oil, and pepper in small bowl until combined. Drizzle dressing evenly over warm potatoes; let stand 10 minutes. (Potatoes can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)
- Toss shallot and herbs in small bowl. Transfer potatoes to large serving bowl; add shallot-herb mixture and mix gently with rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately.
FRENCH POTATO SALAD WITH ARUGULA, ROQUEFORT, AND WALNUTS
Omit herbs and toss dressed potatoes with ½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped coarse, 1 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese, and 3 ounces baby arugula, torn into bite-size pieces (3 cups) along with shallot in step 3.
FRENCH POTATO SALAD WITH RADISHES, CORNICHONS, AND CAPERS
Omit herbs and substitute 2 tablespoons minced red onion for shallot. Toss dressed potatoes with 2 thinly sliced red radishes, ¼ cup rinsed and drained capers, and ¼ cup thinly sliced cornichons along with red onion in step 3.
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