Spanish Potato Salad (Ensaladilla Rusa) is a classic creamy potato dish popular all over Spain. With a combination of cubed potatoes and boiled vegetables, canned tuna is the real star here. This is an easy and versatile addition to any tapas menu, and it works just as well as a simple side dish.
(This post has been completely updated with improved content, a new potato salad recipe and photos in 2020).
Spanish potato salad is a bit peculiar. It's called Ensalada Rusa or Ensaladilla Rusa in Spanish. This translates to “Russian salad” or “little Russian salad.” Considering its name, it is not surprising that it shares many characteristics with traditional Russian salad or Olivier salad from Russia.
The classic Russian salad of today consists of small bites of meat, usually chicken or beef. It was invented in Moscow in the 1860s by a Belgian chef named Lucien Olivier, and has evolved significantly since then. There are versions of Russian salad all over the world, and many go by different names, and have slight alterations to their preparation.
Regardless of its origins, Spanish potato salad is an iconic dish in Spain, and graces many tapas menus as well. It’s surprisingly simple to make, and has much in common with other potato salad recipes, such as a mayonnaise base and even chopped hard-boiled eggs.
How is Spanish potato salad different from Russian salad?
What perhaps makes it the most unique from other variations is the addition of canned tuna. It’s not too surprising that a culinary culture with strong roots in seafood uses fish in its rendition of this potato salad.
Ensaladilla Rusa has many variations even within Spain, from restaurant to restaurant, and home to home. During my visit to Barcelona, I enjoyed Spanish potato salad on a couple occasions as part of a tapas menu.
While it’s often served with small broken breadsticks stuck into the salad, during one particular meal in Barcelona the restaurant served it with pan con tomate or tomato-rubbed garlic bread. Since I’m thoroughly in love with this simple summery bread, I serve mine the same way!
There are many different ways to make potato salad, but this Spanish version is perfect for tapas meals. It’s a bit more restrained than some other super flavorful tapas recipes, so it’s a nice way to balance out the menu. You can easily take it on your next picnic too, so no need to limit yourself to just tapas.
What kind of potatoes are best for potato salad
Technically you can make potato salad with whatever type of potatoes you prefer, but there are some candidates that are better than others.
The best potatoes for potato salad are waxy or all-purpose, thin-skinned potatoes which are less starchy. I recommend peeled yellow or gold potatoes, although white or red potatoes will also work.
Try to avoid floury, starchy potatoes like russets which can fall apart when you boil them. Since this recipe uses peeled, cubed potatoes, it’s best to use a potato variety that will hold its shape throughout the boiling process.
How to make it
Begin by dicing up your peeled yellow or white (waxy) potatoes, and peeled carrots. Add them to a pot (PHOTO 1), and cover with cold water, salting it generously.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover and lower the heat. Simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are just tender. Add frozen peas and cook for another 2 minutes (PHOTO 2).
Carefully drain the mixture in a colander, and run cold water over the top until cool. This will stop the cooking process.
In a mixing bowl add drained, canned tuna (packed in oil or water is fine) and break it up a bit with a fork. Then add halved green Manzanilla olives, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and minced garlic (PHOTO 3). Add the cooled potato mixture (PHOTO 4) and the mayonnaise and give it a good stir.
Season with more salt to taste, and if you want it even more creamy, add a little more mayonnaise based on your preference.
At this point you may cover and chill for several hours until serving, or you can serve it right away. Transfer to a serving bowl or onto serving plates, and garnish as desired.
Here are some ideas for garnishing and serving this Spanish potato salad:
- Grated hard-boiled egg
- Roasted red pepper strips
- Pitted Manzanilla (green) olives
- Broken up breadsticks
- Pan con tomate (toasted bread rubbed with garlic gloves and tomatoes)
Please scroll to the bottom of the post for the full recipe (in a printable recipe card) including ingredient amounts and detailed instructions.
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Ensaladilla Rusa (Spanish Potato Salad)
- 2 pounds waxy potatoes (white or yellow/gold), peeled and diced into ½-to-¾-inch pieces
- 1 medium-large carrot (about 4 ounces), peeled and diced into ¼-to-½-inch pieces
- Kosher salt
- ¾ cup frozen peas
- 5 ounce can tuna (packed in oil or water), drained (4 ounces after draining)
- 24 pitted Manzanilla olives, halved lengthwise
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- 1 tablespoon crushed or minced garlic
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or more if desired)
- 1 hard-boiled egg, grated on a box grater
- Roasted red pepper strips
- Pitted Manzanilla olives
- Add potatoes and carrots to a pot and fill with water to cover by at least 2 inches. Season generously with kosher salt, and bring to a boil. The moment it comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are just tender. Add the frozen peas and cook for another 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the cooked vegetables until they have cooled.
- In a mixing bowl add the drained tuna and break it up a bit with a fork or spoon. Then add the olives, hard-boiled eggs, and garlic. Add the cooled potato-carrot-pea mixture, and the mayonnaise and give it a good stir. Season to taste with more salt, and add a bit more mayonnaise if you feel like it needs it (some people like more and some like less).
- At this point you can cover and chill the potato salad for several hours until serving. Just give it a good stir before transferring to a serving bowl or plate.
- Transfer the potato salad to a serving bowl or to a couple plates and garnish, if desired, with a grated hard-boiled egg, roasted red pepper strips, and/or additional pitted Manzanilla olives. Serve as a side dish or as part of a Spanish tapas menu.
- You can easily omit the tuna if you are vegetarian, or simply dislike canned tuna.
- Make sure to use waxy (less starchy) potatoes like Yukon golds, or other yellow or white potatoes. Floury/starchy potatoes like russets can fall apart during cooking.
- You may be familiar with Manzanilla olives as cocktail olives. They are often sold stuffed with small pieces of red pimento peppers. You can also buy them pitted and jarred without the pimentos. That's what would be more common in this potato salad, but if you can only find the type stuffed with pimentos, feel free to use those. It will add a nice burst of color!
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*