I am a crazy, crazy fan of potato salad. Not just any potato salad, good potato salad. We all know there are a lot and too many very mediocre, even poor potato salads out there. You've had them, I've had them, we've all had them! Bland, commercial ones that taste like plastic and preservatives, potatoes too firm, not enough sauce, too much sauce, under-salted, uninspired, and the worst, plain old forgettable. Potato salad should be such a delectable side dish that you know you shouldn't eat too much of it because there is a main star to save room for, but yet you just can't help eating way more of it than you should because it's so irresistibly delicious! It should scream summer and picnics. You should look forward to potato salad not just put up with it! Heck, I turn it into the main dish. With a fresh, side salad? Yes! So, being the potato salad lover that I am, I've done quite a lot of reading up on the dish. Since first researching, I think I've learned quite a lot and know the ways around making an utterly magical potato salad. And... I think I've created the perfect classic potato salad. Wanna hear about it?
To me, the perfect potato salad has all the right textures and flavors. I've made lots of recipes, one from the Pioneer Lady that called for mashing all of the potatoes. Another that requires dousing the drained, hot spuds in a tangy vinaigrette. And somehow, after combining the secrets and techniques of all these great recipes, I've put them all together and this is what I've come up with.
To get the right texture, some strategic care must be given to the potatoes. I prefer using waxy, smooth Yukon golds. The bigger the better. I dice them all up into about 1'' cubes and and cover with cold water and some salt. Then after bringing them to a boil and letting them simmer, I take out about quarter of them when al dente, then half of what's left when they are creamy but still a firm. Then, I cook the remainder until they are very, very soft in order to mash them. All the while draining each batch, and sprinkling them while still hot with a vegetable oil-based vinaigrette with cider and white wine vinegar, paprika, minced garlic, sugar, parsley, and of course salt and pepper. This way, the potatoes soak up all of the wonderful spices and flavors and result in a potato salad with much more depth and character.
You're going to have to bare with me, here. We're just getting started. If you love potato salad like I do though, it will be worth your time I promise! I should have mentioned that before you even get your potatoes on the stove you should very thinly slice one or two large onions depending on yield you're going for. You will be caramelizing them in a half or whole stick of butter until they are as brown as they can get and reduce to a piddly little ball of what I like to call, onion jam. Onion jam is loaded and loaded with sweet, robust flavor and will take this potato salad into galaxies it only dreamed of! Now, I love potato salads with just a vinaigrette, but, in order to create the perfect potato salad with all the right elements, there just has to be a creamy factor as well. So,in addition to the vinaigrette, we'll be combining a less than usual amount of mayonnaise and sour cream. This will add the creaminess we are looking for, it's really just combining the two styles which I think go very well hand in hand.
Then, to finish you've gotta have boiled eggs. Three to six depending on the size of the salad, or, however many you prefer. My perfect potato salad also has to have pickles. And I want them crunchy. To add sure crunch and a bit of class, I go with cornichons. They are dainty, flavorful, and crunchy as can be. They are perfect. I slice them into little disks. A good amount of them. And for some freshness, celery. The key is to mince the celery very well. It's there for flavor and crunch, but shouldn't overwhelm or stand out too much. Also, I don't care for raw white onions in a potato salad and sometimes scallions can get slimy, so tah-dah... chives, and dried are just fine. This may seem like a lot of work, and truthfully, it kind of is. It's definitely a bit time consuming of a process, but oh-so-worth-it. IT'S INCREDIBLE.
I'm a little leery giving you a recipe and here is why. I've only made this version a couple times and haven't jotted down the exact measurements yet. The next time I make it, I'll jot it all down and share it with you. I can tell you though that you can do it! It's much more about intuition than anything else. I would say if you used about 3 and a half pounds of potatoes, you would want to make about a half cup or a bit more of the vinaigrette, standard 2/3 to 1/3 oil-vinegar ratio. I use vegetable oil because it allows the other flavors to stand out as they should, use olive oil if you prefer. I prefer Wessons. Add minced garlic to taste, a few pinches of sugar or honey, a good amount of paprika, you want the liquid to be a medium orange color, it adds a nice color to the potato salad. Dried parsley, salt and pepper finish it out. For the mayonnaise and sour cream mixture, maybe another 1/2 cup? Add some whole grain mustard as well, maybe a tablespoon. Caramelize one large onion and add the melted butter that comes with it. Then slice up a stalk or two of celery, and then the right amount of cornichons, the chives and celery add necessary freshness. It's also best at room temperature or slightly warm. Due to the fats, and I know, there's a lot of them, eating it straight from the fridge isn't recommended.
I enjoyed some time at Barnes and Noble today and made my way through the latest issue of Fine Cooking. And, to my glee, there was a whole spread of potato salad. It was actually pretty genius. It broke potato salad down into all the elements. Based on three and a half pounds of potatoes, it told you how to cook them (not my method), then to choose a creamy dressing or vinaigrette which they offered recipes for, then lists of enhancements. Check it out if you can. They also suggest making the creamy dressing with 1 part mayo and another part either sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, or buttermilk. Then you can select up to six of the following to aromatics and flavor-boosters to enhance your dressing: anchovies, chipotle in adobo, horseradish, ginger, lemon or lime zest, turbinado sugar or honey, garlic, or orange zest. There are many more you could think up as well. Then, you get to pick your mix-ins, up to six again, and no more than four cups total: artichoke hearts, bell peppers, dried apricots, peas, chickpeas, red onion or shallot, celery, radicchio or endive, granny smiths, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, fennel, raisins, green beans, sweet corn, scallions, tomatoes. Again, you can probably think of many more mix-ins! Also: pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts. Don't forget proteins: bacon, eggs, smoked salmon or trout, turkey, chicken, pancetta, shrimp. Can't leave out cheese: cheddar, feta, blue! And then for real flavor: capers, cornichons, pepperoncini, fresh herbs, olives, jalapenos, etc! There really are so many options. Some of their favorite combos that I thought looked good were:
-Corn, Bell Pepper, and Cheddar: creamy dressing with lime, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Fresh corn, red bell peppers, cheddar cheese, scallions, and cilantro (I would never use cilantro, parsley instead and also a few jalapenos!)
-Bacon, Pickle, and Caraway: vinaigrette dressing with grainy mustard and caraway seeds, then sweet onion, bacon, dill, and parsley.
- Shrimp, Tarragon, and Celery: creamy dressing with lemon and tarragon, shrimp, celery, and chives.
- Pancetta, Peas, and Mixed Herbs: creamy with buttermilk and lemon juice, peas, sugar snaps, pancetta, mint, basil, and chives.
I think a creamy based version with curry powder, green beans, raisins, and peas would be interesting?
Sorry for the long potato salad article here, it's just that potato salad calls for such verbosity, doesn't it? I really hope I've opened your eyes to the possibilities and perfection that can be in potato salad. If you wouldn't mind, tell me about your favorite version of the dish? I've love to hear about them!