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Grandma’s potato salad with modern twists

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Aug 31, 2017

(Sept. 1, 2017) Labor Day Weekend marks the end of the summer and celebratory gatherings are understood.

If one is invited to such an occasion; proper etiquette dictates a token of appreciation. Salads are the perfect choice since they pair with a variety of menus. Store-bought potato salad heightens the theme of convenience, but the flavor profiles and contrast in textures are subordinate and predictable. Remember, details define perfection.

If one is planning to make potato salad there are many considerations. First and foremost, one has to decide what particular type of potato will be used. On other words, decisions must be made based on their usage.

Potatoes are generally divided into three categories: waxy, in-between, and

starchy. Waxy potatoes are generally thin skinned and have the least amount of starch and retain their shape when boiled. Red, new, or fingerling potatoes fall into this category.

In-between or all-purpose potatoes have more starch than waxy potatoes and generally work well with most potato dishes. White or Yukon Gold are reliable and a good type of potato to have on hand.

Starchy potatoes generally are thick skinned and fall apart during the boiling process. When making potato salad, most cooks have a tendency to stay away from russet potatoes. However, this type of potato absorbs more flavor than most potatoes and for this reason is a popular choice for potato salad.

Another area of concern is the cooking time for doneness. There is a fine line when potatoes progress from being undercooked, to being perfectly cooked, and becoming overcooked. I think we all can agree there is nothing worse than al dente potatoes.

A scientific explanation might offer some clarity. Potatoes are made up of a series of cells that contain starch granules. These cells are glued together with pectin. As the potato cooks, the pectin slowly breaks down, and the starch granules start absorbing water.

However, potatoes heat up from the exterior toward the center and this is where it gets tricky. It is possible to have a potato that’s simultaneously overcooked and undercooked.

Placing potatoes (that have been cut in thirds) in cold water as opposed to placing them in boiling water allows them to gradually come to a light boil. This cooking process promotes more evenly cooked potatoes which ultimately leads to a better salad.

Seasoning the potatoes is the next issue at hand. Foods that are served cold need to be seasoned more aggressively than foods that are served hot, our taste buds are less receptive at colder temperatures. In addition, the heaviness of the potatoes adds to the dilemma of being underseasoned.

On that note, let us delve into the specifics of why potatoes should be seasoned while they are hot.

First, the cooked starch on the surface of the potato hardens as it cools, making it harder for the flavor to penetrate it. Secondly, as the potato cools, it has a tendency to tighten up, making it more difficult for any seasoning to work its way into the potato.

I have found that soaking hot potatoes in equal parts of white vinegar and chicken stock for 1 minute solves this issue. You will definitely notice a difference in the actual taste of the potatoes which makes for a more appetizing salad.

Green pepper, celery and sweet onions not only gives the potato salad pizzazz, but adds contrast in texture. Crispy bacon and hard boiled eggs takes the potato salad to another dimension. Adding a teaspoon of Italian dressing to the mayonnaise is the final step for delectable, homemade potato salad.

Over the years, mother’s potato salad has taken on the name of Grandma’s Potato Salad. I have taken her original recipe and added a few modern twists.

Heirloom recipes are special and dear to our hearts. That being said, mother and I would like to welcome you to our family’s table. I know you will enjoy grandma’s potato salad.

Grandma’s Potato Salad

Ingredients

5 pounds Russett potatoes (about 9 medium), peeled, cut into thirds

kosher salt

4 celery stalks, chopped

1 large green pepper, seeded, stem removed and chopped

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

1 pound thick bacon

4 large hard boiled eggs, chopped

2 cups distilled white vinegar

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup and 1 tablespoon Hellmann’s mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Italian dressing

1. Place bacon in a large sauté pan and cook until bacon is crispy. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. When the bacon has cooled, chop and set aside. Refrigerate the bacon drippings for future use.

2. Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water by at least 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt, reduce heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are tender (a pairing knife can be slipped into the center of the potatoes with very little resistance).

3. In the meantime, chop the celery, green pepper and onion. Using a paper towel, squeeze the excess liquid out of the vegetables. Set aside.

4. Using a microwavable bowl, microwave the vinegar and chicken stock combined for 3 minutes.

5. When the potatoes are done, place the hot potatoes in a large bowl that contains the hot vinegar and chicken stock. Using a sharp knife, cut the potatoes into various sizes for 1 minute. Drain the potatoes in a stainless steel mesh colander. Transfer potatoes to a large, clean bowl.

6. Add the chopped celery, green pepper, sweet onions, bacon and eggs to the potatoes.

7. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and Italian dressing and add to the potato salad. Thoroughly mix dressing into the salad.

8. Season with salt, remember potatoes need a lot salt.

9. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*The recipe can be doubled for Labor Day celebrations.

Secret Ingredient - Family. “Family is like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”

– Unknown

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