|my perfect potato salad|
There are times when I can be quite impulsive, but other times when I like to go away to think about things. .. for years . . . and years. It is a real case of the penny not actually dropping, as it is slowly edging along in miniscule increments that is my glacial ability to slowly mull things over.
If any of that doesn’t make much sense, what I am trying to say is that I had never made the connection between my love of cooking, my nerdy need to track down the “perfect” recipe (or the version that tasted best to me) my pleasure in the pleasure of others and my enjoyment of writing about it.
At a former place of work, we would occasionally have office “picnics” – a sort of potluck lunch to help people get to know each other and generate team spirit. (I think that was the intention anyway). I realised that I could keep the costs down (and provide more food!) if I made a lot of it myself. It didn’t even occur to me that some people would regard this as a bit of an imposition (cooking for your co-workers in your personal time), but I just saw it as a challenge. To make the best food, for the greatest number of people below budget.
A few of my colleagues got in on the act, offering to bring in a few of their favourite party foods; the sort of things that are pretty portable and easy to eat with your fingers.
Now many of these people worked in Sales. Suffice it to say (and this is not a criticism), they were extremely competitive. It turns out that so am I, although I have managed to keep it dormant as I have got older. I think I should probably keep it fallow until the point when I really need it.
Unfortunately, a couple of the girls had mentioned that they made the best potato salad ever. These were fighting words if ever I had heard them. While, compared to these girls, I was so laid-back as to be horizontal, the one thing you should never ever do is come between a food geek and her potato salad – a recipe that has been tried, tested and tweaked over nearly twenty years.
And while their level of provocation was at the “nyah nah, nyah nah, mine’s better than yours” level of intellectual debate, it had triggered my competitive spirit and I was prepared to put my (clearly superior) salad to the test. They had raised my ire, whatever that is. "I will beat you with a loaf of my own making, so you can put that in your pan and boil it!"
And this is where George came in. He’s not a sectarian kind of guy at all; he’s impartial, he doesn’t take sides or dig in to cliques. Whether it was deliberate or not, he chose to remain impartial. I also like to think of him as having exquisite good taste. Because of all the salads on offer, he liked mine the best.
George didn’t know it but he had set something in motion. A simple “Rache, that salad was amazing” was the point when the penny hurtled earthwards and clanged resoundingly on my head until I saw stars. The flash, bang wallop of a realisation that my food obsessiveness, the satisfaction of feeding friends and my delight in writing, might be something worth pursuing. Of course it took another few years before I actually committed any of this to the web, but hey ho, as I mentioned before, I can be part tortoise.
This salad always has people begging for more, even confirmed gherkin haters. The secret of any good potato salad is to use a firm, waxy potato such as Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple as they keep their shape much better than floury types. The latter also have a tendency to suck up any dressing like a camel in the desert and I prefer the way that my dressing coats the waxy varieties. I particularly like Sainsbury’s nutty Anya potatoes in this salad.
When not cooking this for colleagues, I love this salad with any variation of salmon, hot or cold smoked or poached. It is also a great accompaniment with a steak.
Skill level: Easy
750g waxy salad potatoes
4 x spring onions, finely chopped
4 x spring onions, finely chopped
2 x gherkins, roughly chopped
6 tbsp mayonnaise (ready-made such as Hellmans or Sainsbury’s French mayonnaise are fine)
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Scrub the potatoes and boil whole in their skins (if using the waxy variety) in a large pan of salted, boiling water for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain thoroughly and allow to cool enough to handle.
- While potatoes are boiling make the dressing by mixing the mayonnaise, natural yoghurt and mustard in a large bowl.
- Stir in the chopped spring onions and gherkins and check seasoning.
- Halve the potatoes (or thickly slice if large) and add while still warm to the mayonnaise mixture. Stir carefully in order not to break down the potatoes. (Stirring the warm potatoes into the mayonnaise mixture seems to improve the flavour as the dressing is slightly “cooked”).
- Serve sprinkled with chopped fresh chives.
- Use firm, waxy potatoes (Anya, Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple, for example).
- Don’t peel the potatoes since the skin helps them to keep their shape while cooking. The skin also imparts a nice earthy flavour to the potatoes.
- Cover the potatoes with cold water and bring to a slow boil. This prevents the skin from splitting and the potatoes becoming mushy and waterlogged.
- When the potatoes are cooked, drain and immediately refresh under cold water (to arrest the cooking). Drain again and then dress with whatever dressing you have chosen, whether a mayonnaise type one, a vinaigrette dressing or even a romanesco, salsa verde or pesto sauce.
- Good things to serve with the salad:
- 1 lemon , ½ zested over a couple of pieces of poached fish (sea trout by my choice)
- 1 tbsp small capers , rinsed
- ¼ cucumber , diced