Potato Salad: Summer at its Best

Potato Salad: Summer at its Best

Carbohydrates are one of my favorite food groups, especially in the summer when potato salads make wonderful additions to virtually any picnic or backyard barbecue menu.

In “The Great Potato Book” (Ten ‘Speed Press, $15.95), author Florence Fabricant says archaeological evidence suggests potatoes were already growing wild along the Chilean coast thirteen thousand years ago. They were first cultivated more than seven thousand years ago in the Andean high plateaus at altitudes where corn couldn’t be grown.

When the Spanish conquistadors brought potatoes to Europe late in the sixteenth century, they initially got a lukewarm reception. Eventually, however, Europeans realized that even a relatively small plot of land planted in potatoes could sustain a family.

When and where the first potato salad was served is a matter of conjecture. Since the French are credited with popularizing potatoes, the classic French potato salad may well be the origin of the genre. In general, the French cook and drain the potatoes and then, while they’re still warm, dress them with a simple vinaigrette.

The classic American potato salad is made with mayonnaise, boiled potatoes, and-more often than not-hard boiled eggs. Southerners often add some sweet pickle, and a lot of cooks put mustard, lemon juice or vinegar in the dressing. Variations aside, this is the potato salad that defines the genre for most of us.

As author Barbara Lauterbach explains in “Potato Salad: fifty favorite recipes” (Chronicle Books, $18.95), it’s the starch content that determines the texture of the potato. Low-starch potatoes like the waxy Red Bliss and the yellow-skinned White Rose make wonderful potato salad because they hold their shape when boiled and cubed, as does Yukon Gold, a medium-starch variety. High-starch varieties, including the ubiquitous Russet, crumble when cooked and should never be used for potato salad.

Lauterbach also recommends Fingerlings, White Eastern, and various “all-purpose,” regionally available varieties, such as the Red Norland and Kennebec. Whatever the variety, the potatoes should be cooked before they’re peeled. Not only will they hold their shape better, but as Lauterbach points out, fewer nutrients will be lost during the cooking process.

Potatoes peeled prior to cooking should be kept covered with cold water until they’re used to prevent discoloration. Some recipes use unpeeled potatoes, which is certainly a time saver, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd.

Much as I like a standard potato salad made with a mayonnaise-based dressing, there are times when a vinaigrette works better. The following recipe is from “Potato Salad: fifty favorite recipes.”

Nuremberg Potato Salad

2 pounds potatoes suitable for use in potato salad (Lauterbach suggests Red Bliss)

Dressing:3/4 cup diced bacon (1/4 pound)1/4 minced yellow onion1 1/2 teaspoons flour4 teaspoons sugar1 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper1/4-1/3 cup cider vinegar1/2 cup water1/4 cup chopped fresh curly parsley1 teaspoon celery seed

Boil the potatoes. Once they’re cooked, take them out of the pot. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut them into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place into a bowl.Meanwhile, make the dressing: In a small skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until just crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the onion and saute until just tender but not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup of the vinegar and the 1/2 cup water until smooth. Taste and add more vinegar if the taste is not tart enough. Add the flour mixture to the bacon, then simmer over low heat, stirring, until slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.Pour the hot dressing over the potatoes and add the remaining 1/4 cup of the onion, the parsley, and the celery seed. Toss the salad by pouring it from one bowl to another until the potatoes are well coated.Serve the salad immediately, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate overnight, then serve cold.

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Tags:
potatoes, salad, side dish

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Barbara Revsine

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