23 August 2019

French... well, Italian, really... potato salad

Summer — yes, the hot afternoon weather is back here in Saint-Aignan — is definitely potato salad season. One of my favorite potato salads is one that's often served in French cafés and restaurants. It's not actually French, but Italian, and it's called une salade piémontaise. Le Piémont is a region in northwest Italy, in the foothills of the Alps, bordering on France and Switzerland. The two biggest cities in the Piémont are Turin and Asti.

The ingredients are pretty standard but the combination of ingredients is really good. It's potatoes, of course, but with firm, ripe, diced tomatoes along with big pieces of French cornichons (pickled gherkins), hard-boiled eggs, chopped onion, and ham. You could use dill pickles or sour pickles instead of cornichons, but don't dice them or the tomato too finely. You want to taste them when you eat the salad.

I like to cook the potatoes and the hard-boiled eggs in a steamer pot. The potatoes don't get water-logged, and the eggshells break less frequently during the steaming process than they do when cooked directly in boiling water. The cooking times for steaming are the same as for boiling — steam the potatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender, and then steam the eggs for 10 minutes.
For this salade piémontaise, I made a dressing by combining supermarket mayonnaise with Greek-style yogurt and an extra splash of vinegar. The mayonnaise by itself is too sweet, I think, and it's too thick. Yogurt thins it and reduces the sweetness. The ham is just packaged sandwich ham (jambon de Paris in France) diced up. Being fancy for once, I used a pastry ring (also called a "food stacker") to make these neat little piles of potato salad on the plates. That's sweet paprika sprinkled on top — but smoked paprika would be good too.

Here's a French recipe for salade piémontaise, in English, that I found on the internet.


  1. After reading today’s post. I asked Firefox about Salade de pommes de terre, and, would you believe, the first to pop up was YOUR 10 August 2018 post!

    In that post, you give a very good advice about raw onions (they definitely
    don’t agree with me!).
    Chop up an onion or two. For digestibility, I believe in slightly cooking the chopped onion before putting it into the salad. Just cook it at low temperature for a few minutes in a non-stick pan with a little bit of vegetable oil. It doesn't need to brown, but just soften and become translucent.

    See my comment on that post for my own potato salad.

    1. I'm definitely trying that!!
      Especially as Spanish onions are almost impossible to get hold of in France... they and red onions are sweet and digestible... too much ordinary onion does exactly the same to me as you... they don't agree.

    2. I used red onions this time because I happened to find some at SuperU the other day. So I didn't pre-cook them.

    3. In the U.S. you can get mild, sweet Vidalia onions (from the state of Georgia) or Walla-Walla onions (from Washington state). The standard yellow onions, raw, don't agree with me either, but I've eaten two portions of the salade piémontaise made with red onions and have had no gastric distress.

    4. I still have a couple Vidalia onions- I'm always sad when my supply is gone.

  2. But this is not potato salad as I know it.... it is "salade piémontaise"...
    I make two potato salads, a German one... and my mother's adaptation of one she used to get served at my parent's favourite restaurant in Florence.... my father used to visit Italy a lot on business and Mum always used to go as well.

    The German potato salad is potatoes as you have done them.... plus shallots [finely chopped] and small gerkins [coarsely chopped] and fresh herbs.... and the dressing is a standard vinegar and oil "French" dressing.

    Mum's potato salad "from Florence" was potatoes as above... and sliced red onion and Heinz Salad Cream [the World's most revolting condiment... except for using on a Tuna salad, where for some unexplicable reason, it works!)
    I changed the dressing to a mix of mayonaise and Greek-style yoghurt for a "do" that my folks were holding [their 25th anniversary I think] and my Mother reckoned that it was the correct flavour... which seems very close to your dressing.... just missing the vinegar!

    Not wishing to cook potatoes in the heat of the last spell... but needing the "comfort" of potato salad.. I mistakenly bought some straight potato salad from one of the supermarché stores...
    it was sooo sweeeet, it could almost have been served as a pudding!
    And far too much dressing for the amount of spud... it was swimming in the white goooo!
    So I ended up cooking some spuds, any way, just to spread the dressing out and added natural yoghurt from our local farm which is quite sharp... plus some lemon juice... and then some more potatoes!!

    I shall have a go at your recipe... and add it to my vast collection of potato dishes... I love spuds in any shape or style... except French mash... looks and tastes like "food for seniors with no teeth"!

    1. I had a German friend once, years ago, who made a very nice potato salad that included sliced cornichons, sliced apple, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard. We make German potato salad in the U.S. too. My memory is that it is basically vinaigrette poured over still-warm cooked potatoes and allowed to macerate for a few minutes before being served.

    2. It was good with apple and cornichons. The German friend (sorry, I can't remember his name) would thin the mayonnaise with warm water to make the dressing.

  3. Having just read chm's comment about "his" recipe has led me to wonder....
    are there as many recipes for potato salad as there are people who cook?
    Seeing as my two regulars are one passed down and the other is an adaptation of an adaptatation of an adaptatatation!

    1. Tim, the main ingredient in potato salad is, obviously, potatoes. The rest is up to each individual. I personaly like things as simple as possible. I very seldom add to my cooking many different herbs and spices, one or two is usually enough for me. So, as you suggest, there is probably one recipe per cook, depending on what goes in the dish!

    2. Most American potato salad has a dressing of mayonnaise with a lot of yellow ("ballpark") mustard (I'm sure Heinz makes it, among other brands).

  4. Your potato salad looks great! Love the tomatoes in it....I'm sure they're full of flavor. When I see potato salad on a restaurant menu here, I expect the potatoes thin sliced with vinaigrette. In the deli, it's usually chunky and mustard based. Your presentation is so nice, I think you could hang out a Chez Broadhurst shingle!

  5. Nice version of a classic. I didn't know that about steaming eggs, what a good idea.
    I've made a mayo dressing your way, sometimes using balsamic vinegar, depending. And sometimes with a bit of powdered mustard added.


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