In elementary school, we played a lot of “introduction” games in the first few weeks of school. Most of the time, they involved decorating a card with your name and drawing hobbies or favorite items in the four corners. Invariably, one of the pictures had to involve a favorite food. Up until age eleven, my favorite food was the potato—what a conversation starter, I know. However, I gave up all hope of becoming an artist way back in kindergarten, so I always decided to just write “potato” in the corner of my card. I always wondered why no one really talked to me all that much about my name card.
As a more or less finicky eater during elementary school, I think it’s pretty clear why my potato was my favorite food: it has a mild flavor and pleasing texture yet can be prepared in myriad ways. I loved potatoes in soups, baked, fried, mashed, sautéed, boiled, or roasted. Yet the one potato dish I refused to try was potato salad. I was always disappointed that a dish could combine my favorite food, potatoes, with my least favorite food, mayonnaise.
Then, a few years ago, I discovered French potato salad. Rather than thick chunks of russets mixed with mayonnaise, slender fingerling potatoes are sliced, boiled until just barely tender, and tossed with a shallot and Dijon vinaigrette. Although not a traditional variation, I always add fresh asparagus for a bright green contrast to the otherwise starch-laden dish. There’s room for recipe this in your recipe box even if you are a mayonnaise lover; the French version is elegant, simple, and the perfect side dish, whether it’s served warm, cold, or at room temperature.
French Potato and Asparagus Salad
Serves 8 as a side dish
2 pounds fingerling potatoes, sliced lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch lengths
1 medium shallot, finely minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place the potatoes and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender yet maintain a slight bite to them. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the potatoes into a large bowl and set aside. Do not discard the cooking water. To the simmering water, add the asparagus and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until bright green. Using the spider again, transfer the asparagus to the bowl with the potatoes.
- While the potatoes and asparagus cook, combine the shallot, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon, pepper, and ½ teaspoon table salt in a small bowl. Pour this dressing over the cooked vegetables and toss very gently to combine. Taste to adjust seasonings as desired, then serve.
Note: If you do not have access to fingerling potatoes, you can use any variety of new potatoes: red bliss, small Dutch yellow potatoes, Yukon gold creamers, Russian bananas, etc. The only potatoes that I would not recommend are starchy potatoes such as russets and Idaho baking potatoes. You can serve the salad warm, cold, or at room temperature.