Kate and I enjoy a relatively calm existence at home, but when it comes to potato salad, there’s nothing calm about it. Kate really loves traditional German-style potato salad – I like the stuff well enough, but in my book, it just isn’t salad. It is potato casserole, no doubt about it. And I can say that because I am pretty close to half German. Whoever heard of a salad that was served hot? It will wilt all the fresh greenery if you give it half a chance. Oh, wait, that sauerkraut is already pretty well wilted, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love so-called German Potato Salad; it just isn’t salad.
The way I see it, when it comes to potato salad, there is only one approach. The recipe calls for potatoes, preferably new, red, thin-skinned potatoes; hardboiled eggs, preferably sliced or diced whole; garden fresh yellow- or white-skinned onion; fresh dill weed; celery; and any other interesting looking green garden herbs. Finally, you need some sort of dressing. I prefer Newman’s Own Italian (Caesar will do if your wife has thrown the Italian out). Oh, did I mention that Kate doesn’t like Italian dressing? What?
OK, so you boil the spuds whole (with the skins on) until they are firm … not soft and not crunchy. You can tell when they are done by periodically testing pieces with a little butter and pepper on them. Once the potatoes are just right, run cold water into the boiling pot and let them sit until cool. This is a good time to go pull an onion or two and some fresh celery.
Once the potatoes are cool, cut them into the right-sized pieces. I leave the skin on. I usually shoot for cubes roughly ½ inch across. Place them in a bowl and gently toss them with Italian dressing. Newman’s Own is a little too red for my ideal potato salad vision, but I like the stuff and what it stands for. When you have enough dressing … you will know (trust me) … cover the bowl and let it sit while you consume a frosty beverage under the hackberry tree.
On the way back into the house, cut some chive if you want a little more onion flavor. Chop the onion, celery and any other greenery into appropriately sized pieces and toss them into the bowl of marinating potatoes. Add as much mayonnaise as you like and mix the whole works gently. I like freshly ground black pepper, so that’s what I top this salad off with.
I can’t give you exact quantities for my favorite potato salad, because I never know exactly how many potatoes I will have the energy to dig. And if I am short a tablespoonful of mayo or Italian dressing, there’s no harm – you can’t tell Kate though, because if you don’t follow the recipe exactly, it just isn’t right.
One thing about me that I know Kate and I both agree on is that wherever we wind up eating, if there is potato salad on the menu, I have to try it. I tried some the other day at a friend’s house, and it was yummy. Yummy enough that I asked for the recipe – it wasn’t German or French potato salad – it was lovely and delicious, the way potato salad is meant to be.
What do you think? Is German potato salad really salad? Does mustard belong in potato salad? How about sour cream? What’s your favorite recipe for this ultimate summertime comfort food?
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.