Summertime spuds

The key to a great potato salad is pickle juice, wrote Mitchell Davis, author of ‘Kitchen Sense’

Potatoes are dressed with light mayonnaise-mustard dressing and dill in this summery salad (photo credit: SAM FRIEDMAN)
Potatoes are dressed with light mayonnaise-mustard dressing and dill in this summery salad
(photo credit: SAM FRIEDMAN)
Potatoes are the most widely consumed vegetable in the US, and a cool potato salad is a classic summertime comfort food. During the Independence Day holiday weekend, potato salad will be the top dish on American menus. According to a 2005 survey of American eating habits reported on CNN’s website, an American is 540 times more likely to eat potato salad on July 4 than on an average day.
The key to a great potato salad is pickle juice, wrote Mitchell Davis, author of Kitchen Sense.
To make his typical American potato salad, he dresses cooked potatoes with mayonnaise and adds mustard, celery, onion, parsley and chopped hard-boiled eggs. It is important, wrote Davis, “to use plenty of chopped pickle and pickle juice.”
For 900 grams (2 pounds) of potatoes, Davis uses 2 hard-boiled eggs, 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons pickle juice, 1 large finely chopped dill pickle and small amounts of the other flavorings.
Nick Zulkin, author of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home, agrees about the pickle juice and pickles. His tart dressing has red-wine vinegar, lemon juice and plenty of whole-grain mustard, in addition to the pickle juice, and just a bit of mayonnaise. For a fresh touch, he adds chopped dill and parsley.
For an even tangier, mayonnaise-free potato salad, Zulkin uses capers and another kind of pickle – homemade pickled red onions, and some of their juice. This zesty spud salad also has olive oil, mustard, parsley and dill.
A completely different type of pickle flavors Brooklyn chef Peter Berley’s potato salad – pickled herring, as well as some of its brine. He dresses the salad with crème fraiche, grated lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped dill, and drizzles it with a little brine.
Properly cooked potatoes are essential for good potato salad.
“It is always best to start potatoes in cold water,” wrote Michael Natkin, author of Herbivoracious. “That gives the interior a chance to cook before the outside has gone to mush.”
When I studied at a cooking school in Paris, the chefs emphasized that for the best flavor, potatoes should be cooked whole in their skins, and while still warm, should be peeled, cut and marinated with a white wine marinade. To make it, for 900 grams (2 pounds) potatoes, mix 2 tablespoons dry white wine, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or olive oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar if you like, and salt and freshly ground pepper, and mix this marinade gently into the potatoes. Once the potatoes have cooled to room temperature, they should be moistened with a dressing and served at room temperature.
In contrast, for his American potato salad, Mitchell recommends chilling the cooked potatoes for a few hours or overnight before dressing them. He notes that they can be cooked two or three days in advance, and that the salad keeps for a week in the refrigerator.
Instead of boiling potatoes for her potato salad, Esther Deutsch, author of Chic Made Simple, bakes halved unpeeled potatoes with a little oil in a covered pan. Baking them gives the salad an intense flavor, wrote Deutsch, and is easier than boiling. She dresses the potatoes very lightly with a mixture of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, minced garlic, lemon juice and a touch of Worcestershire sauce, and adds finely diced dill pickles and fresh dill.
Potato salads don’t have to be white. Natkin includes a generous amount of cooked green beans in his potato salad. Instead of mayonnaise or vinaigrette, he uses a green dressing – arugula pesto.
Old-fashioned potato salads are soft-textured, but some like their potato salads with a little crunch. Tess Masters, author of The Blender Girl, achieves this by mixing in plenty of raw vegetables – julienned broccoli stalks, diced sweet peppers, celery and generous amounts of green onion and parsley.
When Masters makes her iconoclastic spud salad, the creamy, mustardy dressing she prefers is not based on mayonnaise or vinaigrette, but on cashews. It’s perfect for those who want their potato salad to be as far from standard supermarket potato salad as can be.
• The best potatoes for salad are relatively small boiling potatoes. These have firm waxy flesh, unlike mealy baking potatoes, and therefore do not fall apart in the water during cooking and do not crumble when cut.
• Take care when cooking potatoes for salad. Undercooked potatoes do not taste good; if potatoes are overcooked, they fall apart when cut and mixed with the dressing. If the potatoes are of different sizes, remove the smaller ones first, after checking each one with a slim knife or fork to see if it is tender.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations and Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
This recipe is from Herbivoracious. Author Michael Natkin wrote: “The arugula pesto is a bright emerald green that holds its color much better than basil-based pesto.
You should still make the sauce as close to serving time as possible because the fresh flavors begin to dissipate, emphasizing the bitter aspect of the arugula. The mint adds a subtle bright note that makes all the difference.”
Makes 4 servings
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) small, waxy potatoes, such as red-skinned
❖ 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
❖ 225 gr. (8 ounces) green beans, trimmed and halved
For pesto:
❖ 55 gr. (2 ounces) baby arugula (rocket) (about 3 cups loosely packed leaves)
❖ ¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
❖ 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
❖ 1 or 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (use the larger amount if you are a garlic lover)
❖ ¼ tsp. kosher salt
❖ 30 gr. (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
To finish:
❖ Freshly ground black pepper
❖ ½ cup toasted walnut pieces (optional)
Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water with the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. When potatoes are fork-tender (10 to 15 minutes depending on size), transfer them to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add green beans to water and boil for 2½ minutes. Transfer green beans to a separate bowl. Rinse both vegetables in cold water until cool; drain well. Cut potatoes in half if they are much larger than bite-size. Set aside.
For pesto: Combine arugula, mint, olive oil, garlic, salt and cheese in a mini food processor. Process until mixture forms a fairly smooth paste with some texture left. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender, or a regular blender if you make a double batch. Taste and adjust seasoning.
To finish: Toss potatoes and green beans with the arugula pesto, several grinds of black pepper, and walnut pieces, if using. Taste, add more salt if needed, and serve.
This recipe is from The Blender Girl. Author Tess Masters notes that the salad tastes even better the next day and will keep in the refrigerator up to five days. If using traditional egg-based mayonnaise to make the mustard dressing, you may not need the vinegar or salt. If making cashew-based egg-free mayo, soak the cashews first to give the creamiest results.
Makes 8 servings
❖ 1.2 kg (2¾ pounds) potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5-cm. (1-inch) cubes
❖ 1 Tbsp. natural salt, plus more to taste
❖ 1 bunch green onions (white and green parts), finely chopped
❖ ½ cup diced red onion
❖ 1 cup diced sweet red or yellow pepper
❖ 1 cup diced celery (about 4 large ribs)
❖ 1 cup julienned (cut in very thin strips) broccoli stalks, or peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
❖ 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped Freshly ground black pepper
❖ 1 1/3 cups your preferred brand of mayonnaise, or egg-free mayo (see note below)
❖ 2½ Tbsp. Dijon mustard, plus more to taste
❖ 2½ Tbsp. stone-ground mustard, plus more to taste
❖ 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
❖ ¼ tsp. natural salt, plus more to taste
Place potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to cover.
Add the salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer potatoes for about eight minutes, just until fork-tender. (Don’t overcook your potatoes, or you will end up with a mash rather than a chunky salad.) Drain potatoes, rinse them with cold water, and drain them again thoroughly. Allow them to cool completely.
To make dressing, put mayonnaise, mustards, vinegar and salt into blender. Blend on high for about 1 minute, until smooth and creamy. Tweak flavors to taste (you may like more mustard, vinegar or salt).
To assemble salad, transfer cooled potatoes to a large bowl. Add green onions, red onion, red pepper, celery, broccoli and parsley. Pour on the dressing and fold in gently, keeping potatoes as intact as possible. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Egg-free mayo: Soak 1 cup raw unsalted cashews in warm water to cover with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of lemon juice or vinegar for 2 to 4 hours, or soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes, or until softened. Drain thoroughly and rinse. In a blender combine cashews with ¼ cup water, ¼ cup chopped cauliflower florets, ¼ cup cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, 1¼ teaspoons yellow mustard, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 teaspoon coconut sugar or other natural sweetener and ¼ teaspoon natural salt. Blend on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Scrape down sides of container if necessary. Add more mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sweetener or salt to taste. Dressing keeps in refrigerator up to 5 days. Makes 1 1/3 cups.