Forget Croutons, French Fries Belong on a Salad

Get those french fries off your plate and put them in a big honking bowl of salad.

A french fry-topped salad is properly known as a Pittsburgh salad, but when you grow up in Western Pennsylvania, you simply just call it a salad. I grew up thinking that all salads came with french fries on top. My mom pan fried steaks and made big dinner salads with fresh cut, homemade french fries on top. Restaurants in my hometown served salads with grilled chicken, fries, cheddar cheese, and ranch. Heck, my favorite bar back home, Cedars, serves fries and Middle Eastern kibbeh on top of their salads. This all might seem a bit gluttonous and novel, but to me preparing and eating a salad like this is actually quite sensible. In fact, I think it’s elegant.

Let me just explain why I’m such a proponent of fries on a salad, to you, the unfamiliar reader. Firstly, they add sustenance. Potatoes are filling. The French get that—just think about a salad niçoise with its tiny boiled potatoes. Whether that’s actually traditional is a point of contention, but Auguste Escoffier, an iconic French cookbook author and chef, added boiled potatoes to his salad niçoise sometime in the late 19th century and it has endured. Escoffier, a salad genius and a potato luminary, set the stage for the Pittsburgh salad.

Secondly, French fries on a salad add warmth. Once again, I look to the French for confirmation. A salad Lyonnaise is simply a poached egg salad warmed with bacon and bacon fat. This results in a heartier, tastier bowl of greens. Adding a heated element (like fries) transforms a side salad into a dinner salad. Whenever I bring up fries on a salad to the uninitiated, their first remark is that the fries must make the salad hot, and therefore inedible. That is categorically false. A salad offers enough cool resistance to the fry so that nothing ever becomes hot. The salad is cold, the french fries are warm, and together they work together to offer a wholly unique experience. 

Moreover, aside from substance and temperature, there is something absolutely wonderful about consolidating an entire meal into a big bowl. It’s not that unfamiliar of a concept—consider a poke bowl or a grain bowl. You have your protein, grain, vegetables, and sauce, all piled together. With a Pittsburgh salad, a classically continental plate of steak, potatoes, and side salad are stuffed into one giant vessel. 

So we’ve covered texture, temperature, and functionality. But, what about taste? Friends, the taste of french fries mixed with salad dressing is incredible. If you like dipping your fries in herb-speckled ranch, then you’ll love a Pittsburgh salad. A fork full of warm, creamy, crispy French fries with some Iceberg lettuce, shaved red onion, and cucumber drenched in tangy ranch is a gorgeous bite of food. It’s a forkful that is synonymous with my upbringing, but one that I keep coming back to as an adult, too. It’s a bite that carries freshness, sharpness, depth, and creaminess. Ranch is my preferred fry-on-a-salad dressing, but it actually doesn’t matter what you choose—Russian, blue cheese, honey mustard, Italian—they all work great with fries, lettuce, and vegetables, and they all offer something unique. French fries and ketchup? A classic, for sure. But, we’ve all experimented with new dipping sauces at home. The lettuce, the onions, the protein, the dressing—they all just serve as accoutrement to the star of the show, the humble sliver of fried potato.

I think it’s about time this regional phenomenon goes mainstream. A Pittsburgh salad, in all of its saucy, fried glory, is a hidden gem in the food world. A salad with potatoes is a concept that endures, and the greater Pittsburgh area carries this tradition well. French fries, even among a wheelbarrow full of ingredients, shine bright in a salad. Some of you will hate it, but I also know that if some of you try it, you’ll fall in love like I did.

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • Not gonna lie, I used to do this often. For me, it was the hot fry mixed with crisp, cold lettuce. I’ve never liked dressing or fancy salads so mine mainly consisted of lettuce, cucumber, carrot shreds (maybe), strawberries, and a couple of fries on top. Maybe it’s also a nostalgia factor but I stand by this. 102%