I had the pleasure of reading “American Potato Salad” by Rebecca Hays, which appeared in Cook’s Illustrated a while ago. For the uninitiated, Cook’s Illustrated is the beloved nerd of the cooking world. Their motto is “we make mistakes so you don’t have to.” Cook’s pedantically Poindexter approach to the basics is well worth revisiting as it is old-school cooking technique at it’s finest.
For example, they tested several varieties of potatoes and discovered that Russets absorb the most vinegar while they are hot because they have a weaker cell wall and crumble more easily, “a charming, not alarming feature,” according to Hays. Because veins of vinegar permeate the whole chunk, seasoning the potatoes while they are hot is a flavor game changer. Because there is little discernible difference between a potato cooked in the jacket or peeled, go the easy route: peel and cut into large cubes, boil in salted water and do not overcook.
After testing dressings with mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt, test-tasters overwhelmingly chose mayo — like a freshly pressed summer linen suit, 1/2 cup seasoned mayo dressed two pounds of potatoes properly and perfectly.
All-American potato salad
Peel 2 pounds of Russet potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Place in a large saucepan and add water to cover potatoes by 1 inch. Bring to boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Simmer until tender, 8 minutes. Drain potatoes and transfer to prep bowl. Add 2 tablespoons white vinegar over the hot potatoes; fold gently to combine. Let cool for 30 minutes.
Fold together: 1/2 cup mayo; 1 rib chopped celery; 2 tablespoons minced red onion; 3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish; 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard and celery seed, each; 2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley; 1/4 teaspoon pepper; 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut into cubes. Salt to taste. Gently fold together dressing and eggs. Cover and chill one hour or up to 24. Serves 4.
Try some of these splashy burger combos with the salad: shrimp, scallop, and mint bound with panko and egg white. Chicken/turkey burgers with bacon and avocado and BBQ ketchup. Duck burgers with chutney and basil aioli. Short rib burgers with caramelized onions, bleu cheese and tomato. Lamb and beef combo stuffed with Greek seasonings, tzatziki sauce, grilled onions.
Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters. Archived Everyday Gourmet columns are at kimdannies.com. [email protected]