Sunday, June 3, 2007

Classics: Potato Salad

Some foods are classics, just as some articles of clothing are. A well-cut pair of black pants, a tailored sheath dress, a white button-down shirt, a pair of loafers - all classics in their own right, no matter what direction fashion takes. Food is the same. A well-cooked prime rib roast; a well-shaken vinaigrette; a flawlessly smooth lobster bisque or richly flavoured, airy chocolate mousse: these are classic dishes. So, I would argue, is a well-made potato salad.

The humble potato can be dressed up many ways, and dressed down even more. From french fries to dauphinoise, baked, pureed, or grated and made into rosti, the potato is versatile beyond belief. But one of the finest things to do to it is peel it, boil it gently until just tender, cool it and dress it with a creamy mayonnaise, some crunchy celery, and green onion for depth and piquancy. I don't make potato salad often, and in the past I've usually opted for a jazzed-up, modernized or tweaked version, like the totally delicious new potato, green bean and walnut salad I made one summer in Switzerland that had walnut oil, wine vinegar, garlic and cracked black pepper in the dressing. It was wonderful, but bore about as much resemblance to a picnic potato salad as knee-high boots do to strappy sandals. Both are shoes, but that's where the resemblance ends.

Yesterday I satisfied our potato salad craving with a classic version, one that's so impossibly easy it feels like cheating to even tell you what I put in it. If you've ever eaten potato salad, you could figure it out. Yet the simple combination of basic ingredients translated into something so immediately recognizable as the quintessential potato salad. I'll be making this a lot as a side for grilled meats and fish in the coming summer months, let me tell you. A LOT. And you should too.

Classic Potato Salad
(serves 6-8)

6 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
2 stalks celery, diced
3 green onions, dark and light green parts only, sliced
1 cup light mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip. I love it, but it's all wrong for potato salad.)
2 tbsp white vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar and it was too strong, necessitating more sugar)
1 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer gently until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain, rinse with cold water and allow to drain again. Place potatoes in a large mixing bowl and add the celery and green onions.

In a separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over potato mixture and toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Can be served cold or at room temperature (but follow usual precautions about mayonnaise, of course). Keeps for 3-5 days in the fridge, tightly covered.

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