What would or wouldn’t you do for love?
My answers? In this order: Anything and Nothing. I’d do pretty much anything to please the one I love and there isn’t much at which I’d balk. I’d eat bugs, if it was called for, on either front.
It was in this spirit that I began searching for the perfect All American Potato Salad Recipe for the city-dwelling boyfriend for July 4th. Since I was hosting a BBQ for my sis and her family (handsome young hubby and cute 3 year old niece), Greg’s attendance was going to be compulsory. And since he’s a traditional BBQ man (burgers and dogs and potato salad and corn), I thought I’d try to appeal to what he implies is his “less fancy” ethos when it comes to food and food celebrations. “I like things simple,” says the man who is more complex than a croissant recipe. Since we’d be having the less traditional grilled chicken, I wanted to soothe him with something that felt familiar.
But when I asked what kind of potato salad he liked, he mentioned bacon and lots of mayo: “I’ll get you my mom’s recipe,” he offered. I whispered a small prayer to the goddess of anachronisms and said “No, no, I got it covered.”
My dilemma is this: I don’t want to be the woman who cooks mom’s recipes, no matter how good they are. That just puts me in line to be compared to a sainted figure with whom I’ll never measure up and to whom I’d rather not be compared. Plus, it links us gals together in one long interchangeable line. I’d long ago left off the idea proffered by my father that “Someday, I’d make someone a great wife,” but here’s the real rub: If I have to either compete with or take the place of mom, I lose. For the record, the nicest man in the world doesn’t mean any of this when he innocently offers up the recipe; he thinks he’s being helpful.
And now to the real vegetable of the matter: I hate potato salad. It’s gummy and gluey and strangely yellowed and drowning in tons of bland dressing. In short, it looks like something that just came up instead of something that is meant to go down.
But I’m taking a bullet for love; I set my mind on making something the man will love and I might like.
I begin with a search of my favorite “how to” chefs, including Julia Child and Mark Bittman. Then I ask Heather, a Midwestern-transplant who lives in Jamestown and cuts my hair. Word: the girl cook. She sends me a recipe. When I have 3-4 from which to choose, I make a list of ingredients and start concocting in my head.
First, I pick green onion over the “onions” called for in most recipes (Hey, there is a difference between red, Spanish, yellow and sweet, and here is my first problem with most recipes which rely on the generic instead of the specific). Then I pick fresh chopped pickle over sweet relish, and reduce the amount of mayo and cut it with sour cream (the rationale here is flavor, not fat), and plan to add chives and parsley.
I also decide to put vinaigrette over the hot potatoes and let them cool while absorbing all that yummy acid. Bland, starchy potatoes no more!
My biggest fear is the pickles. On top of bacon and eggs being called for, it seems like over kill. The night before, I carefully quarter and boil red potatoes with the skin on. This is the most important part: Overcooked spuds make for that gluey mixture I hate; the skins add texture and keep the potatoes from dissolving. Mindful that the potatoes will keep cooking after I drain them, I let them come to just al dente. Then I douse them with vinaigrette of cider vinegar, olive oil, dill, and fresh cracked black pepper. I let them cool in the freezer, stirring occasionally, and then add the chopped chive, parsley, crispy bacon, and thin sliced eggs with a bit of Dijon mustard and some kosher salt and more cracked pepper.
But, I chicken out when it comes to the pickle. I just can’t do it, it just seems too weird. But the whole thing comes together nicely with the mayo and sour cream and a bit more cider vinegar. Next time, I’d add Greek Yogurt instead of mayo to enhance the sour taste even more.
And there will likely be a next time.
“This is good!” Greg grins. The potatoes hold their shape in my mouth and they are creamy with hints of tartness from the cider coupled with chewy earthy bits of bacon. I like it more than I want to say. And WE like it so much, we eat it with a breakfast scramble the morning after the 4th.
Greg, by the way, keeps asking each time we haul out the plastic storage where all the potato salad is going.
|Photo by Nancy Grosso
“I don’t know,” I say, licking my fingers and dreaming of the next BBQ.