Kim's Top Shelf Potato Salad
It's quite warm here in Southern California. The days are hot and the nights are warm enough for you to sit outside and sip on glasses of lemonade while staring into the dark star-filled sky. What this means for us is that grilling season is here. Now I have to be honest and tell you that we grill in any weather, cold, hot, rainy, (ok maybe not rainy), but pretty much all the time. I guess that’s a perk of living in a place where it hardly ever rains.
As long as I can remember my family has always had a grill. My earliest memories were of a square grill about two feet by two feet and the whole thing was only about four or five inches deep: just enough for a good layer of coals that almost touched the grill grate. I was a kid but as I remember it, we would pile in a bunch of charcoal, saturate it with half a can of lighter fluid, and then stand back as my dad tossed in a match. The flames would shoot up and sparks would fly into the sky. When the coals got hot they would be spread out evenly and the grilling would begin. There was no real understanding of hot and cold zones back then, or if there was, it was completely ignored. There wasn't a lot of finesse to the grilling either, you couldn't ask for a medium or rare burger: what you got was what you got. If you liked your burgers well done though you always got what you wanted as everything burned easily. My brothers and I also weren't allowed to really do anything except stand next to the grill armed with a spray bottle of water. When things caught on fire you had to spray the flames without getting water all over or splashing wet ashes onto the food. Usually that meant you got one squirt and then you turned the bottle over to dad. After that, all there was to do was to stay out of the smoke. It was like a game for us as no matter where you stood the wind would blow smoke in your face. Move and the wind would shift and again, smoke in the face, it was maddening.
I am pretty positive that as a kid the only thing my family grilled was meat. It was as if there were instructions that came with the grill that simply said, "Make big fire. Cook meat. Eat". So that's what happened, and let me tell you, there was a lot of meat. When my family grilled, it usually ended up as a meat smorgasbord. It was as if, when standing in the meat department, my mother could not decide on chicken, sausages, steaks, hamburgers, or hotdogs so she got a little of each. When everything got to the table, usually piled high onto one big platter, it was quite the sight. You know those seafood places where they simply dump the pot of crab and lobster and clams onto the center of the table and everyone eats with their hands? Like that, but with meat. It was almost enough to turn a die-hard carnivore into a vegetarian... I said almost.
I can also remember the coals stayed hot in those grills for a really long time and after dinner we would roast marshmallows over the dying embers. I am not sure how other families roasted marshmallows, but my mom would take a wire hanger from the closet and untwist it while bending it as straight as possible. Then we would stick our marshmallow onto the end and try to hold it above the coals. We didn’t have chocolate or graham crackers usually, so there were no “smores” at our house. It was just a plain roasted marshmallow. The trick we quickly learned was to keep twirling the hanger and of course not to let the marshmallow contact the hot coals. The problem was that for some reason we always held the hanger at the very end. Perhaps we thought the heat from the coals was going to race down the hanger and burn our fingers. For whatever reason holding it this way meant a good number of our marshmallows caught fire or simply dripped off the hanger and plopped into the fire. Regardless, this was always the highlight of grilling days.
When I was a little older, maybe high school or so, my dad upgraded the grill to the iconic Weber kettle grill, but that's about the only thing that changed. The cooking process and what we cooked all stayed the same. Grilling was hot and fast and reserved for meat. "Well done" stayed the specialty of the house. A lot has changed since my childhood days and grilling is definitely one of those things.
But this post isn't about grilling.
My mother, again for as long as I can remember, has made potato salad several times a year. She makes it in the exact same bowl every time and it has always been made exactly the same way. It's a good potato salad. It feeds the whole family and was always a good side dish for grilling days. Her potato salad is, like many, mayonnaise based and garnished with slices of hard-boiled egg. I have nothing against mayo-based salads, but for a long time I have been looking for a good alternate version. My need for a non-mayo based potato salad came from having pot-lucks where refrigeration was not always available, and the thought of a mayo based salad sitting out on the picnic table for a few hours just gives me the heebie jeebies (do people still get the heebie jeebies?).
This potato salad was taught to me by Kim O'Donnel and one day I will have to find some way of letting her know. Perhaps she'll stop by the house when she's in town and I'll tell her then. This recipe is in her cookbook "The Meat Lovers Meatless Cookbook" which you can check out here. Two things I especially like about her recipe:
1. It’s not overly complicated. It’s just simple and good.
2. Her method of cooking the potatoes uses less water and a bit more salt, so you don’t end up with the potatoes that are overly mushy or super pasty.
I know potato salad doesn't sound glamorous, I can hear you all now… it’s not that exciting, it’s just a side dish, it’s a bother to make, it’s just easier to go to the deli at the local market and buy it in a plastic container. And to that I say No! Put down those tubs of overly cooked, goopy, artificially yellow, potato product and make this instead. You’ll be glad you did.
There is no need for a step by step for this recipe because the hardest thing you have to do is boil water. The recipe is at the bottom of the post along with a link to download or print a copy, but before you go there I do want to throw out a few things I learned after making this a couple of times.
You can double this recipe easily, just be sure you have a good-sized pot to boil the potatoes in. If you have a pot with a glass lid, that’s great as you can see when the water has come to a boil. I have, at times, cut my potatoes into smaller pieces and that’s fine but you need to reduce the amount of cooking time. You don’t want them overcooked or they will fall apart. In fact I find that the potatoes usually cook in less than the time stated even when I cut them into one inch pieces. Start checking them at around 10 to 12 minutes in. Test for doneness by using a fork or paring knife, which should insert into the potato with just a little resistance. I often increase the amount of scallions, usually because I don’t want to have left over scallions, but I also like the taste. Try it as written and if you want more, hey, it’s your potato salad right? For the pepper I use coarsely ground pepper, again this is a personal preference, choose what’s best for you. And lastly if you want to give it a bit more zing add in some lemon zest, again to your liking. Remember it’s easier to zest a lemon before extracting its juice.
I have no issues taking this potato salad to potlucks. It’s good, it's easy to make, and I never get the heebie jeebies after it sits out.
2 pounds waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold or red-skinned) washed, trimmed, and peeled as necessary
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup scallions, white and light green parts only, diced
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
Ground black pepper – to taste
· Cut the potatoes into 1 inch pieces and place in a medium size pot with a lid. Add the salt and 4 cups of water and cover. Set over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and cook for 18 to 20 minutes. Note: Start checking for doneness at the 10 minute mark!
· While the potatoes cook, combine the lemon juice, mustard, and olive oil in a small bowl, whisking with a fork until well blended.
· When the potatoes are fork tender, remove with a skimmer or sieve, allowing the residual water to drain, and transfer to a medium sized bowl.
· Pour the sauce directly on top of the potatoes, and with a rubber spatula, gently stir until the potatoes are well coated. Stir in the scallions and parsley, until evenly distributed, then add the black pepper.
· Serve warm or at room temperature