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Good Taters

04/03/2012

I admit, I’m a snob when it comes to potato salad. When JC was working on his BBQ zine last year, we ate a lot of potato salad as part of that adventure. I always pick it as one of my sides, but so much of what we encountered was merely OK.

Like many people, I judge food through a nostalgic prism. I want potato salad to taste like my mom’s, which was the eggy sort and chock-full of goodies. And though I appreciate varieties with limited extras, one thing I’m set on is the pickle: It’s gherkin or nothing.

And don’t even think about adding dill.

Of course, some people like the German-style salads, heavy on vinegar and mustard, no egg in any form, and typically flavored with bacon. I can understand that. Especially the bacon. I’ve enjoyed plenty of red-potato, minimal salads; I just think of them as an entirely different thing. They’re fine to be eaten with schnitzel or herring, but that’s not my idea of homestyle comfort food.

I recently made a batch of “the real thing” for a holiday gathering. It’s definitely a time-consuming process. I’ll skip the details about boiling potatoes; it’s a chore that often makes me wish I hadn’t bothered. The trick, though, is cooking your tubers just right. If you undercook them, your salad will have an unnatural crunch. If you overcook them, you may as well serve them mashed. But since I like my salad creamy, I err toward the cooked side. In my book, having that yummy, mush between chunks is far better than raw potatoes.

Here’s what goes into the salad:

Ingredients

5 lbs potatoes
1 dozen eggs (did I mention the tedium of boiling eggs …)
finely diced gherkins
finely diced celery
sliced black olives
chopped scallions
chopped piminetos
dressing

The amounts really vary based on taste. For the 5lb potato/dozen-egg quantity, I usually buy a 12oz. jar of pickles, a 4 oz. can of sliced olives, a small jar of pimientos, a bunch or two of scallions, and then chop about a cup of celery. When in doubt, it’s better to have more of everything on hand. That way you can keep adding until you like the mix.

When the potatoes are cool, dice them in big chunks, add the veggies and eggs, and then toss. Be sure to start with a very large bowl.

Salad Mix

Then stir in the dressing.

It’s best to make the salad the day before serving, to allow all the flavors (especially the salt) to settle. You may want to add more seasoning after the ingredients have done their happy dance together. I’ve sometimes splashed in extra pickle juice if I thought the salad needed additional zing.

For the dressing, you’d be surprised at how much is necessary. And after letting the salad sit overnight, you may want to add more for flavor or moisture. So don’t cut back on how much dressing you make; you’re not required to use it all. Just add the amount that seems right to start, but be sure to save any extra in the fridge until you’re happy with your salad the next day. I didn’t end up using it all myself.

dressing:
mayo -1.5 cups
mustard – 3 Tbsp
sugar – tsp
salt to taste
pickle juice, if desired

Salad

If you don’t like eggs or mayo, or your need to make a vegan version, you can substitute an olive oil/honey-mustard dressing instead. That was my dad’s adaptation, which otherwise shares all of the same treats. He also added a handful of fresh, chopped basil. The same comments about letting the flavors meld overnight apply, though I’d go very light on the basil at first and then add most of it fresh before serving. It’s very intense, and if you add too much too early, it will take over your salad.

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