The Richest Spanish
Potato Salad Recipe

(Ensaladilla Rusa)

By Edu Valor / Author - Spanish Chef

This Spanish potato salad recipe is the king of the summer in Spain. There is no salad as popular as the ensaladilla Rusa!

It's simply delicious cold, right from the refrigerator. That's how we like it! With tuna-mayo flavor and a touch of acidity.

You're now probably wondering why they call it Russian (or Olivier salad). Is it Spanish? With its extreme popularity in the country I'd like to say, yes! But it's not an original recipe!

In magazines and papers, too often they mention it as a creation from the Slavic country.

Let me dispel the confusion here! 

Spanish potato salad with hake on a stylish plate.

Lucien Olivier (1838-1883), a Belgian chef of French descent, created a tasty salad in Moskou. It's high demand made him famous in the Russian capital and surroundings.

There he opened a fine dining restaurant called "Hermitage". 

Originally, the salad was called "game mayonaisse" (as in wild mayonaisse), later becoming salad Olivier.

Lucien Olivier never revealed the full recipe but customers mentioned it had crab, partridge, veal tongue, lettuce, pickles, truffels, boiled potatoes and olives.

But chef Olivier merely popularized his version of potato salads that were already in existence in Western Europe.  

...and Europe has a long tradition of salad making. Why do I mention this?

Because when Lucien Olivier was 7 years old (1845), long before setting foot in Moskou, the recipe book "The Modern Cook" by Charles Francatelli was released. That book included a recipe called "Russian salad".

Francatelli wasn't the first and the best, only Queen Victoria's own head chef. That version had red mayo, lobster, gamba's, crab, tuna, olives and capers. That's what I call a fancy salad!

The thing is, it wasn't a main salad! Rather a mix to accompany his Italian vegetables salad recipe. A mix of asparagus, peas, beans and artichoke, among others. All well and delicous!

Yet again, Francatelli on his turn adapted a recipe from his Chef instructor in France, the great Antonin Carême. His work "Le Pâtissier Royal Parisien" from 1815 included the salad a-la-Parisienne.

This one had potato, peas, carrots, asparagus, mushrooms, turnip, beets and beans mixed with mayonaisse. A little different but not unfamiliar to me.

Many creations and adaptations went through the hands of different chefs in western Europe. Spain had their own.

Then why is it called "ensaladilla Rusa"? It's not 100% sure but in the well known book "La Cuisine Classique" by Urbain Dubois 1856, we find the recipe "Salade Russe". This is the year 1856.

It's not like it had ingredients that were typically Russian. In those times recipe names were often random.

Spanish chefs were likely inspired by this work as the salad was part of a banquet menu in the city of Valladolid in 1858. The snippet below the recipe shows part of that listing (courtesy of the National Library).

Ingredients for 4+ Servings

Preparation: 45-50 minutes
Cooking: potatoes 15-20 minutes (depends on size), eggs 12 minutes
*Measurements in metric and USA Imperial system. For British/Canadian measurements please use the metric conversion calculator.

Add the mayonaisse when the potatoes and eggs are still warm. It'll emulsify the flavors better and increases the creaminess. 

  • 700g/25 oz new potatoes (preferrably waxy), regular sized
  • eggs hard boiled
  • 2 small roasted bell peppers (piquillo peppers), canned/jarred, cut short strips
  • 150-200g/5-7 oz tuna natural, canned/jarred
  • 4-5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 120g/4 oz green peas, canned/jarred
  • 120g/4 oz baby carrots, canned/jarred
  • 10 green olives, cut in rings
  • lemon juice to taste, I used 1/2 lemon.
  • sea salt and pepper

Optional: minced chives or parsley for garnish


Let's Make a Spanish Potato Salad Recipe

  1. Set water to boil in a pot. 
  2. Cut the piquillo peppers in short strips, the carrots short and the olives in rings. Set aside!
  3. Cut potatoes with skin in quarters, add them in the boiling water with the eggs. Remove eggs after 12 minutes. After 15 minutes pierce a potato with a paring knife and lift. If it slides off easily, they're done! If not, leave another few minutes.
  4. Take off skin of potato pieces and dice them. Dice the eggs too. Put everything in a bowl.
  5. Add the tuna, peas, carrots, piquillo peppers and olives. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the mayo and gently stir a few times without mashing the ingredients. Sprinkle some lemon juice. Stir again and taste!
  7. Adjust the taste to your liking with extra mayo, salt or lemon juice. Carefully combine everything well.
  8. Store in refrigerator until it's very cold (3° to 4°C/37° to 39°F).


TIPS: 

  • Cut the potatoes, eggs, carrots a little larger than a dice.
  • Keep the potato salad in the refrigerator. I store it 30 to 35 minutes in the freezer before moving it to the refrigerator. The temperature should be 3° to 4°C/37° to 39°F
  • Keep carrots, peas, mayo, roasted peppers and olives in the refrigerator overnight. It speeds up the cooling of the salad.
  • Trick of the chef: mix in the mayo when the potatoes and eggs are still warm.

Olive rings with piquillo peppers in a saucer.Olive rings and piquillo pepper strips.

What You Will Need

  1. A bowl
  2. Paring knife
  3. Cutting board
  4. A pot
  5. Can opener
  6. Large spoon/spatula

Snippet of the inauguration menu of the railway in Valladolid. It includes the Russian salad.The "ensalada rusa" or Russian salad, snippet of a railway-inauguration menu in Valladolid 1864.


The ever popular Spanish potato salad recipe was already enjoyed in Spain, even before Olivier opened the Hermitage in Moscou. 

But Spain's version, like others, had to endure a change of ingredients as a result of the civil war. From then on we see a more recognizable and affordable recipe, similar to the ensaladilla we know today.

Potatoes, carrots, peas, boiled eggs and tuna were and are the main ingredients. Unlike the Sevillian, classic potato salad, which is an even more reduced version!


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