This Russian Potato Salad is one of the most popular Russian dishes. Made with creamy potatoes and eggs, mixed with crunchy pickles, and speckled with peas and carrots. Instant Pot makes cooking it much easier and faster.
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I often get asked to describe Russian food. This question usually gives me pause.
For me, Russian food can be split into three categories: before WWI, during Soviet Union era, and post-Soviet Union. I have read with hunger and delight Gogol’s passages in Dead Souls on food when I was younger, yearning for the time long gone and for the culinary pleasures that I would never experience.
I poured over cooking books on history and recipes of the tzarian era. Those books were peppered with sentiment and words I could not understand.
Pages upon pages made me feel awkward, listing ingredients and techniques that I could not even pronounce. This is not the Russian food that I can comment on.
Having left Russia during the mid-90s and having not been back since 2000, I cannot comment with any expertise on the current state of Russian food culture either. What I can describe though, is the food I grew up with: Soviet food.
Food not based on regional agriculture or affected by trades and economy but food based on necessity. Food based not on the available ingredients but instead on their absence.
It’s the absence that created one of the most popular Russian (well, really Soviet) dishes called Olivier Salad. This Russian Potato Salad originates in the late 19th century; a French chef, Lucien Olivier, invented it for a restaurant in Moscow. That concoction included roasted grouse, crayfish tails, caviar, capers, and olives along with more common potatoes, cucumbers and eggs.
Decades later, during many hunger-filled years, desperate for some forgotten grandeur of prosperous time, Russian people made substitutions and omissions. They used boiled diced carrots in place of caviar and crayfish, not for flavour or texture, but for visual representation.
Salty and crunchy pickles were added instead of tender and fresh cucumbers, briny olives and now exotic and forgotten capers. Grouse was first changed to boiled chicken, then to bologna and then skipped altogether. Boiled potatoes and eggs were all that was left from the original salad.
Now, this modern Olivier salad (commonly known as Russian Potato Salad) is the symbol of hospitable dinner parties, celebrations, and New Year’s Eve.
Deficit is the adapted translation of the word for describing taste that I grew up with. It was an adjective that came to describe many ingredients.
Butter went from rich and creamy to salty and icy to deficit. Ice cream – not sweet and fruity, but deficit. Cheese – no descriptives needed, just deficit.
But even in those times of austerity, my Russian food memories have tables overflowing with platters of salads laden with mayo, smoked fish (rare, reserved for special occasions), and canned meats.
Tables with glasses clinking, people eating and laughing, conversations erupting. Tables where families were growing, friendships forming and lasting through generations.
Russian cuisine was not about food. It was about people. It was about opening your house and sharing your last piece of bread with your neighbour. It was about feeding your friends.
It still is.
For me, no New Year’s Eve celebration is complete without a serving or two of Russian Potato Salad. There are dozens of variations of the recipe but my grandma made my favourite. Her secret was in dicing all the ingredients really finely, this way every forkful had a bite of everything.
Out of all the Russian recipes, this is my husband’s favourite. I tried making Russian Potato Salad a few times but it took a long time to make and I preferred buying it from a Russian grocery store.
However, I recently discovered a way of cooking the vegetables and the eggs in my Instant Pot, and although pressure cooking doesn’t make this salad super easy, it makes it a little bit easier and a lot more convenient.
What are the ingredients in Russian Potato Salad (Olivier Salad)
Here are the main ingredients:
- boiled potatoes
- boiled carrots
- boiled eggs
- canned peas
- pickles (preferably salt-brined as opposed to actually pickled)
- cooked chicken or bologna
Variations for Russian Potato Salad (Olivier Salad)
This recipe varies from family to family. In mine, we always had it without any meat. On very rare occasion, my grandma added real canned crab to it.
Many Russians do not even consider this salad to be a salad without chopped bologna. Some add cooked chicken or beef tongue.
I have seen many versions with diced apple, fresh peas, cauliflower instead of potatoes. Some add sour cream or yogurt to mayo. Some add mustard.
For me, all those variations do not work. They are not something I grew up eating, so I am sticking to my original version.
The only ingredient I am not entirely sure about is onion. I add it to my Russian Potato Salad (Olivier Salad) but I do not remember if it was in my grandma’s recipe and unfortunately she’s no longer here so I cannot ask her.
Why use Instant Pot to make Russian Potato Salad
Whenever I made this salad before Instant Pot, I would have three pots going on the stove: potatoes in one, carrots in another, eggs in the third. Cooking all those three ingredients in Instant Pot means that I only get one pot to wash, thus turning it into an Instant Pot Russian Potato Salad.
Also, egg loaf!! I do not know who invented it but it is genius! Instead of cooking eggs in their shells, the eggs are cracked into an oven-proof bowl and cooked in electric pressure cooker into a loaf. Once cooked, there’s no need to do any peeling and chopping an egg loaf is way easier than chopping individual eggs!
I use a small Corningware dish to make egg loaf. You can use any ove-proof dish that would fit into Instant Pot and hold 5 eggs.
How to cut the ingredients for Russian Potato Salad
I strongly (very strongly) urge you to cut everything into small and even dice. You can see in the photo and in the video how small everything is.
For example, I try to dice the onion and carrots into 1/8th or even 1/16th of an inch pieces. In my mind it is essential to the right salad to do so.
I know that many people do not agree and chop everything into half an inch or even bigger pieces but I feel that’s not the best way.
How long will Russian Potato Salad keep?
This salad should easily keep in the fridge for about five days. Most likely it could keep for even a week but I have never tried it myself.
TIP: you could prep all the ingredients and keep them in separate airtight containers. Then just mix a small amount a night before you want to eat the salad. This way you can make this one big portion but you don’t have to eat it right away and it’ll be fresher this way.
Ingredients and substitutions for Instant Pot Russian Potato Salad
- My grandma always cooked potatoes in their skins for this potato salad, so I am doing the same and using small potatoes to make sure that potatoes, carrots, and eggs cook at the same time
- You can use regular peeled potatoes that are cut into small pieces
- Since this is a Russian recipe, brined pickles are used. Brined pickles are very common in Russia just as the vinegary types
- You can read more about Russian Dill Pickles
- In Canada I usually find brined pickles in the Jewish section of our supermarkets. They don’t need to be the specific brand I showed in the photo
- You can use your favourite pickles if you can’t find the brined kind
- As I mentioned earlier, onion is optional
- I like using sweet onion as it gives a nice crunch and onion flavour without all the unpleasant aftertaste
- If you can’t find a sweet onion, use regular onion, dice it really finely and then pour boiling water over it. Let the onion sit in boiling water for 30 seconds and drain. The boiling water will not cook the onion but it’ll make it a bit sweeter
- We always use canned peas. I have seen variations of this salad with fresh (or frozen and defrosted) peas but I haven’t tried it that way
- You can use light mayo if you’d like
- You can use half mayo and half yogurt but mayo is such an integral part of Russian (Soviet) cuisine that I’d suggest using full mayo
- Read more about Mayo – i.e. My guilty ingredient
- I don’t like boiled carrots usually but they work really well in this salad and my trick is to dice them as thinly as possible
- Some people try to make this salad healthier and use half boiled eggs and half just boiled egg whites
- I always use full eggs. This is not an everyday salad so I feel ok making it the way my grandma used to make
- As I mentioned above, in my family we always make this salad without any meat but there are many variations of what to add to this Russian Potato Salad:
- Bologna (the most traditional)
- Cooked chicken breast
- Crab meat
- Imitation crab
- Beef tongue
- Cooked beef
- Chicken hearts
- Instant Pot
- You don’t need to use Instant Pot to cook the potatoes, carrots, and eggs
- You can cook all the ingredients on the stove, separately
Do you need to chill Russian Potato Salad?
Yes! The flavour improves as the salad rests in the fridge for a few hours or even better if it’s overnight. Mayo permeates all the ingredients and makes the Russian Potato Salad creamy and smooth. You get the crunchy pickles and onions mixed with salty and creamy eggs and potatoes.
You can serve the salad right after making it but it’ll be better if served a few hours later.
More Russian Recipes:
- Russian Dill Pickles
- Traditional Russian Crepes
- Russian Egg and Onion Hand Pies
- Russian Beet Salad with Prunes and Pecans
- Russian Cheesecake
- Instant Pot Borscht
If you would like to see more Russian recipes, for example, Baked Milk, then buy my new cookbook, The Ultimate One-Pan Oven Cookbook. It is not a Russian cookbook but it contains quite a few Russian-inspired recipes. It will also make a great gift!
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Russian Potato Salad
- 1.5 pounds mini white potatoes
- 2 medium carrots (about 175 g)
- 6 large eggs
- 1/3 sweet onion (about 50 g)
- 1 cup finely diced brined pickles (about 150 g)
- 1 cup canned peas (about 180 g)
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
Instant Pot instructions
- Wash the potatoes. Cut the bigger ones in half. Leave the small ones whole.
- Peel the carrots and cut the long ones in half
- Spray a small oven-proof dish that fits into Instant Pot with oil and break the eggs into the dish. Try to keep the eggs whole.
- Place a trivet into Instant Pot. Add 1 cup of water.
- Put the prepared potatoes onto the trivet.
- Place the egg dish on top of the potatoes.
- Place the prepared carrots around the egg dish.
- Close the lid, turn the pressure valve to Sealing, press Steam and use the arrows to select cook time of 5 minutes.It takes about 15-17 minutes to come to pressure.
- Once the 5 minutes of steam cooking are up and your Instant Pot beeps that it's done, do a quick release. This will take about 3-4 minutes.
- Cook potatoes, carrots, and eggs on the stove in three separate pots until fully cooked.
- Most likely all three will take different length of time to cook.
Assemble Russian Potato Salad
- Let the cooked potatoes, carrots, and eggs cool.PREP TIP: Cook the ingredients a night before making the salad.
- Very finely chop the sweet onion. Chop the potatoes into 1/2-1/3-inch pieces. Finely dice the eggs. Very finely chop the carrots. Dice the pickles.
- Mix all the chopped ingredients with mayo, salt, and pepper in a big bowl. Add more seasonings to taste.
- Let the Russian Potato Salad chill in the fridge for a few hours before serving.