French no-mayo potato salad

May 10, 2009 at 6:05 am (Cook's Illustrated, French, Starches, unrated)

Derek picked this recipe out of the Cook’s Illustrated light recipe.  It’s a light potato salad recipe, with a vinaigrette instead of mayo.  Unlike a typical American potato salad, the French version uses sliced potatoes, and is served warmed or at room temperature (never cold).  It’s much more refined and elegant than the typical American mayo-laden, pickle-studded potato salad.

Tips from CI:  It’s important to slice the potatoes before boiling them so that the slices don’t break apart.  Plus the potatoes cook more evenly and you don’t have to burn your fingers trying to cut hot potatoes.   To keep the potato slices from getting damaged over overcooked, CI has you lay the potatoes on a baking sheet and pour the vinagrette over them, and let them cool before moving them to a bowl.  To cut back on oil, CI recommends adding some of the potatoe cooking water which is starchy and so acts as a binding element to hold the salad together and keep the potatoes from drying out.  CI says that white wine can also be used.  They also blanch the garlic to tone down the aggressive raw garlic flavor.

  • 2 pounds medium red potatoes (about 6, 2.5 ounces each)
  • 6 cups of water (1/3 reserved for the salad)
  • 2 tablespoons salt (or reduce a bit if you’re salt sensitive)
  • 1 medium garlic clove, peeled
  • 1.5 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustanrd
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 Tbs.)
  • 4 Tablespoons mixed french herbs (CI recommends equal parts chervil, parsley, chives, tarragon)
  1. Bring the potatoes, water, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce to a simmer.  Skewer the garlic on a fork tine and lower it into the simmering water for about 45 seconds, then cool it under cold running water.  Simmer the potatoes uncovered until they are tender, about 5 minutes. (A thin bladed paring knife should slip into and out of the potato slice with no resistance.)  Drain the potatoes, reserving 1/3 cup cooking water.  Arrange the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet, ideally in a single layer.
  2. Mince the garlic, and combine in small bowl with the oil, reserved cooking water, vinegar, mustard, and pepper.  Drizzle the dressing evening over the warm potato slices.  Let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Chop the shallots and herbs and toss them together in the vinaigrette bowl.  Move the potatoes to a serving bowl, and add the shallot-herb mixture.  Mix carefully.

My notes:  My potatoes were a bit larger than called for and so my potato slices looked a bit large and awkward.  I misread the recipe and accidentally added 1/2 cup of cooking water, so my salad was slightly wet, but still very tasty.  I had white potatoes not red, and as a result the potato salad was not quite as pretty as it should have been. I couldn’t find fresh chervil or tarragon, so I used a little frozen box of minced “French herbs” that I bought in the grocery store.  I added the herbs to the dressing before drizzling it over the potatoes, which seemed to work fine.  I used a white balsamic vinegar, which tasted fine.  Overall I thought the potato salad was very tasty, although perhaps just a tad too salty.  My friend Alex really liked it–she said it was the best potato salad she’d ever had, and kept “encouraging” me to post the recipe.  Derek and my mother were less enthusiastic.  First of all, they argued that the recipe could not be called potato salad, perhaps because the potatoes were sliced instead of cubed.  Also, they just thought the recipe was a bit boring.  I thought it was delicious, however, and I’ll definitely make it again.

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