American-style potato salad, thickly dressed with mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish, is archetypal picnic fare and will always have a place on summer tables. But we’ve cooked (and eaten) piles of it over the years, and these days we yearn for something lighter and fresher to serve with grilled fish, chicken, and even meat.
In our mind, French potato salad is just the ticket. Having little in common with its American counterpart, French potato salad is served warm or at room temperature and is composed of sliced potatoes glistening with olive oil, white wine vinegar, and plenty of fresh herbs.
We expected quick success with this seemingly simple recipe—how hard could it be to boil a few potatoes and toss them in vinaigrette? We sliced the hot potatoes, dressed them while they were still warm (warm potatoes are more absorbent than cool ones), and then served them up to our tasters.
The salad looked mangled, as the warm potatoes consistently broke apart upon slicing. We had chosen not to peel the potatoes for the sake of convenience and beauty, but the potato skins inevitably tore, leaving unsightly streaks.
And the salad didn’t taste much better than it looked. Despite an assertively seasoned vinaigrette, the potatoes themselves were uniformly bland. Another irksome point was that it was hard to tell when the potatoes were done. Unevenly sized potatoes made it difficult to avoid some over- or undercooked potatoes in the finished dish. This wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought.
FRENCH POTATO SALAD WITH DIJON
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, sliced 1/4 inch thick (Use small red potatoes measuring 1 to 2 inches in diameter)
2 tablespoons salt
1 garlic clove, peeled and threaded on skewer
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh chervil (If fresh chervil isn’t available, substitute an additional 1/2 tablespoon of minced parsley and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of tarragon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
Place potatoes in large saucepan, add water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to boil over high heat. Add salt, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender and paring knife can be slipped in and out of potatoes with little resistance, about 6 minutes.
While potatoes are cooking, lower skewered garlic into simmering water and blanch for 45 seconds. Run garlic under cold running water, then remove from skewer and mince.
Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, then drain potatoes and arrange in tight single layer in rimmed baking sheet. Whisk oil, minced 7/8garlic, vinegar, mustard, pepper, and reserved potato cooking water together in bowl, then drizzle over potatoes. Let potatoes sit until flavours meld, about 10 minutes. (Potatoes can be refrigerated for up to 8 hours; return to room temperature before serving.)
Transfer potatoes to large bowl. Combine shallot and herbs in small bowl, then sprinkle over potatoes and gently toss to coat using rubber spatula. Serve.