Smoked herring potato salad, a truly old French classic
French harengs pommes à l’huile, or lukewarm smoked herring potato salad… Here’s how to make this century old Parisian bistro starter at home!
If you have been to Paris before…
Then this next smoked herring potato salad might ring a bell!
The exact French name for this classic is “harengs pommes à l’huile”.
And it tells us practically entirely what is in it.
How is your French?
Well “harengs” is easy right, that is the herring.
But then what about the “pommes à l’huile”?
Pommes means apple in French, however here in this particular dish it refers to “pommes de terre” which means potatoes.
And “huile” is French for oil, à l’huile means in oil.
Harengs pommes à l’huile, in other words herring and potatoes in oil!
French bistro starter
Smoked herring potato salad in oil is a classic French bistro starter.
And you bet that every traditional bistro in Paris has this timeless smoked herring potato salad on the menu!
But why is it such a popular dish?
Because it is delicious!
And also it is quite cheap for customers and very easy to make ahead and serve for restaurants. Just like that other French bistro classic, the egg mayo!
Those are the reasons why dishes like that will never go out of style.
What price can you expect for a herring potato salad?
Prices fluctuate between €3,50 and €15 depending where you are going.
In classic cafés and bouillon restaurants you will pay very little for this dish.
The price at Le Bouillon Pigalle and Le Bouillon Chartier is the same: €3,80. Bouillon Pharamond charges €4,80.
Posher restaurants such as brasserie Lipp and Les Deux Magots are more expensive: €13,50 and €14 respectively.
What type of potato do you use for this salad?
Waxy potatoes because they are firm and keep their shape after boiling.
We have come across quite a few versions with skin on grenaille potatoes, their small size makes the salad look extra pretty. However plain and simple waxy potatoes are also used: peeled, boiled and sliced.
Not only the textures and flavors are important in this salad.
Also the temperature is a game changer: serve this herring potato salad lukewarm!
If you make it at home, assemble the salad while the potatoes are warm so that the entire dish is lukewarm when you serve and eat it.
Warm potatoes will also soak up that delicious oil dressing and become even more flavorful.
Now for that herring, which one should you use?
Unfortunately a little online digging left us rather surprised because lots of recipes for this classic French herring potato salad tell you to use pickled or marinated herring.
And that could not be any further from the truth.
A harengs pommes à l’huile is made with salted and mildly smoked herring.
You can find it in French supermarkets under the name “harengs fumés doux”.
That mildly smoky flavor is what makes or breaks this herring potato salad, that is the only version that exists.
Salting and smoking fish is a tradition that has been done for centuries to preserve food.
It is traditionally done in fishing villages where the fish is caught in abundance and brought to land.
As of the 13th century northern French villages such as Boulogne sur Mer, Dieppe and Fécamp prosper from the smoked herring trade.
Our harengs pommes à l’huile salad is also known under the name of “salade fécampoise”, because it used to be a very important port city during that successful herring era. It consists of the same ingredients, only sliced hard boiled eggs are added.
Not surprisingly our French herring potato salad has been a classic for quite some time.
It started to appear on restaurant menus over more than 150 years ago, but it is believed to be a much older recipe.
Although harengs pommes à l’huile is traditionally served as a starter in France, this smoked herring potato salad is also a delicious lunch meal treat.
The best way to serve it is with freshly baked crusty bread.
Our personal recipe below makes a lunch salad for 2 or a small starter for 4.
Smoked herring potato salad
- 1 ¼ lbs (550 g) small waxy potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
- 7 oz (200 g) mild smoked herring fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tbsp strong mustard
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- ½ small onion, finely shaved or diced (or make pickled red onions instead as a topping)
- a handful fresh parsley or chives, roughly chopped
- Scrub the potatoes, don’t peel them.
- Transfer the potatoes to a pan with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender. Right in the end, add the sliced carrot and let it cook with the potatoes for 30 seconds, not longer.
- Drain the potatoes and carrots and let them cool a little.
- Combine the mustard, onion and lemon juice. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with pepper and salt to taste.
- Once you can touch the potatoes without burning your fingers, cut them into bite size pieces.
- Add the potatoes, carrots and diced herring to the olive oil dressing and stir gently. Serve right away.