The Backyard Cookout Gets Stylish
Put the plastic tub away and get out the porcelain. Humble potato salad has gone to the next level, with twists that make it more appropriate for foie gras than franks and burgers.
Peru and Chile are in a South American smackdown of sorts about which country was the original source of the potato. Last year, Chilean Agriculture Minister Marigen Hornkohl said 99 percent of the world's potatoes can trace their roots to Chile; and then Peru stepped out to declare that they were the birthplace of the potato, and that in fact their country boasts some 3,000 varieties. There was quite a bit of back and forth, and then David Scott Palmer, a professor of Latin American politics and American policy at Boston University, said that the arguments are "a very superficial manifestation of this ongoing concern of national pride and wounded feelings over various problems in the past." A classic case of potato transference.
“As Freud said, sometimes a potato salad is just a potato salad. But sometimes, it’s a repressed carb waiting to be recognized.”
But such sparring does underscore the importance of the potato, a lovely, flexible tuber, which has played the lead part in the eponymous salad for, like, ever. Potato salad is a summer fixture. And you can easily make a nice simple one, with some cubed cooked potatoes, some mayo, a bit of relish or chopped pickles, some onions, salt, pepper, maybe some celery, maybe some mustard and sometimes a hard-boiled egg or two. And you will be happy. Because potato salad is good.
But let's say, just to be wacky, that you wanted something more out of a potato salad. Something that said, "Hey, I'm not just a starchy side dish, I'm a recipe in my own right, and I demand some respect!" Well then, sir (or madam), you've come to the right place. As Freud said, sometimes a potato salad is just a potato salad. But sometimes, it's a repressed carb waiting to be recognized.
There are many schools of potato salad (OK, they aren't really schools, maybe more like adult-education classes): the mayo class, the vinegar class, the mayo AND vinegar class, the eggy version, skin on vs. no skin, sour cream, warm vs. room temp vs. chilled... and there's no one right way: the perfect potato salad is in the eye of the beholder.
So, in closing, here are five recipes that will leave no one listlessly shoving the obligatory dollop of potato salad around on his or her plate.
Grilled Spicy New Potato Salad by Chris Schlesingger and John Willoughby
A contribution from two insane grill masters. Served hot, this dish is like grilled hash browns; served cold, it’s a flavorful and unusual potato salad. The deep flavor of well-browned potatoes is the star here, so make sure you leave them on the grill long enough to get well-seared. Mustard seeds, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, Tabasco. You can use any small potatoes you want—Yukon Golds are excellent—and if you don’t have mustard seeds, don’t let that stop you: Just substitute a couple of tablespoons of prepared mustard.
Salad of Warm Skate With New Potatoes by Simon Hopkinson
Is this a potato salad with skate, or skate served over a potato salad? Discuss. The combination of strands of softly cooked skate flesh and slices of waxy potatoes is a deeply pleasing one. Chef Simon Hopkinson refers to this combo as "damp fish and chips," though we do think that may not quite convey the level of deliciousness that this dish offers.
Potato Caesar Saladby Sarah Leah-Chase
The universally appealing salad dressing collides with the potato for a substantial, simple, soul-satisfying, warm potato salad. It’s great with a nice rosy steak or steamed lobster. It's also nice on its own with a big spoon.
Mushroom and Potato Salad With Toasted Garlic by Amy Farges
This is a veggie-infused potato salad with lots of tastes and textures vying for your attention and keeping it interested. Radishes, fresh spinach, and cremini mushrooms jostle up against the potatoes, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a grind of pink peppercorns give it a final flourish.
Old-Fashioned Potato Saladby Jean Anderson
This one goes out to all the purists out there. Ain't nothing wrong with this potato salad.
Katie Workman is the editor in chief and chief marketing officer of Cookstr.com, a Web site devoted to great, tested recipes from chefs and cookbook authors. Katie is on the board of City Harvest, and actively involved in Share Our Strength. She lives in New York City with her husband her two boys, ages 6 and 9.