Updated: Dec 29, 2022
I spent a long time looking for the exact English name of the popular salad we call French salad (in Hungarian). Finally, after a long search, I found out that its proper name is Olivier salad.
It is very interesting that I have never heard of this exact name before.
The funniest thing about this Olivier Salad is how different countries attribute it to different countries.
Around the Balkans it's sometimes called Russian, sometimes French salad.
In Norway and Denmark it's called Italian salad, although Italians themselves call it Russian salad. In Dutch it is called Huzarensalade (hussars' salad).
In Algeria they call it Macedonian salad, although neither of two has anything to do with it.
Some people in Turkey even call it American salad!
Brazilians, on the other hand, call it just Mayonnaise, and nobody really knows why Romanians call it a beef salad.
It was invented by Lucien Olivier, a Russian chef of Belgian and French descent. It doesn't sound fair though that nobody in the world calls it Belgian salad.
The original version of chef Olivier's salad, invented in the 1860's quickly became immensely popular and became his restaurant' signature dish.
At the turn of the 20th century, one of Olivier's sous-chef, Ivan Ivanov, attempted to steal the recipe. While preparing the dressing one evening in solitude, as was his custom, Olivier was suddenly called away. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Ivanov sneaked into Olivier's private kitchen and observed his "mise en place", which allowed him to make reasonable assumptions about the recipe of Olivier's famed dressing. Ivanov then left Olivier's employ and went to work as a chef for Moscow, a somewhat inferior restaurant, where he began to serve a suspiciously similar salad under the name "metropolitan salad" (in Russian: Stolichny). It was reported by the gourmands of the time, however, that the dressing on the "Stolichny" salad was of a lower quality than Olivier's, meaning that it was "missing something."
Later, Ivanov sold the recipe for the salad to various publishing
houses, which further contributed to its popularization. Due to the closure of the Hermitage restaurant in 1905, and the Olivier family's subsequent departure from Russia, the salad could now be referred to as "Olivier."
One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, appearing in 1894, called for half a hazel grouse, two potatoes, one small cucumber (or a large cornichon), 3–4 lettuce leaves, 3 large crayfish tails, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, 1 teaspoon of capers, 3–5 olives, and 11⁄2 tablespoon Provençal dressing (mayonnaise).
As often happens with gourmet recipes which become popular, the ingredients which were rare, expensive, seasonal, or difficult to prepare were gradually replaced with cheaper and more readily available foods.
Today's popular version of Olivier salad is a version of Ivanov's Stolichny salad, and only faintly resembles Olivier's original creation.
This version was a staple of any holiday dinner, especially of the New Year's Eve dinner, due to availability of components in winter. Even though more exotic foods are widely available now, its popularity has hardly diminished: this salad was and maybe still is the most traditional dish for the home New Year celebration for many people.