Potato salad is perfect picnic fare, but it is a good side dish any time of year, dressed and garnished in various styles to suit the season. Julia's American-style potato salad is garnished with hard-boiled eggs and crisp bacon bits, chopped pickles, onions, and celery, all given a light coating of homemade mayonnaise. Make this at least an hour ahead of time so the flavors have time to ripen, and serve cool or at room temperature. Jacques's salad is particularly nice for winter meals -- the hot potatoes are tossed with white wine and oil, sautéed onions, scallions, and garlic. Serve it warm, with slices of hot, homemade sausage arranged on top, or with other meats.
The best potatoes for salad are the firm-textured, low-starch "waxy" varieties, which hold their shape well, such as boiling potatoes, small new potatoes, or delicate fingerlings. All-purpose potatoes with waxy flesh, such as the versatile Yukon Gold, are particularly delicious. Whatever kind you use, dress the potatoes while they are still warm so that they best absorb the flavors, and gently fold in all the dressing and seasoning ingredients in one or two additions only, so the potato pieces don't get mashed from overhandling.
Julia's American-Style Potato Salad
Yield: About 6 cups, serving 4 to 6
2 pounds large Yukon Gold potatoes, or other waxy, boiling potatoes
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1/3 cup chicken stock or potato-cooking water
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3 or 4 slices crisply cooked bacon, chopped or crumbled
2 to 3 Tbs finely chopped pickle, sweet or dill
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced thin
3 Tbs or so finely chopped fresh chives or scallions, including a bit of their tender green
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 cup or so mayonnaise, homemade if possible (pages 117 and 120)
Sour cream (optional)
Crisp whole red-leaf or other lettuce leaves
Canned red pimiento, diced; sliced hard-boiled eggs; tomato quarters; parsley sprigs (optional)
Peel the potatoes and slice each one lengthwise in half, or in quarters if very large; then cut crosswise into half-round or quarter-round slices, about 1/2 inch thick.
Put the slices in a saucepan with water just to cover and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt per quart of water. Heat to a simmer, and cook the potatoes for 5 to 6 minutes, or until just cooked through. It is essential that they be just cooked through. Bite into a slice or two to be very sure. Immediately remove from the heat and drain the potatoes into a colander, but save a cup of the cooking liquid for dressing the potatoes. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Stir the cider vinegar with 1/3 cup of the potato water or chicken stock and drizzle this over the potato pieces, turning them gently to distribute it evenly. Let sit 10 minutes to absorb the liquid.
Add the prepared onion, celery, bacon, pickle, hard-boiled eggs, and chives, and season carefully to taste. Top with 2/3 cup of mayonnaise (or a mix of mayonnaise and a bit of sour cream) and, with a large rubber spatula, gently fold everything together until well blended. Taste the salad and add more salt, pepper, or mayonnaise as needed.
Cover the salad and set aside in the refrigerator for at least an hour or so before serving. If it is refrigerated longer, let it come back to room temperature before serving. Taste and adjust the seasoning again.
To serve, line a bowl or a platter with red-leaf lettuce or other greens, and mound the salad on top. Decorate at the last moment, if you wish, with any or all of the optional garnishes.
Jacques's French Potato Salad
Yield: About 6 cups, serving 4 to 6
2 pounds fingerling potatoes or other small waxy potatoes
1/2 cup or so extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup 1/4-inch slices of scallion, green and white parts
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, mashed and coarsely chopped (1 1/2 tsp)
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/2 Tbs Dijon-style mustard
2 to 3 Tbs chopped chives
2 Tbs or more coarsely chopped fresh green or purple basil, fresh tarragon, or parsley
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more if needed
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper (coarse), plus more if needed
For serving and garnishing
Large radicchio leaves, about 6, from the outside of the head
1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
Chopped fresh parsley
Scrub the potatoes and put them, whole, in a saucepan with water to cover by 1/2 inch. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook the potatoes gently until they are just tender and can be pierced with a sharp knife. Drain immediately and let cool slightly. (Scrape the skin from the cooked potatoes, if you want, as soon as they can be handled. For a decorative look with fingerlings, scrape off only a band of skin, about 1/2 inch thick, all around the long sides of the potato.)
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small saute pan. When hot, add the scallions and the onion, toss to coat well, and cook for about a minute over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, toss to mix, and cook for just a few moments, then remove the pan from the heat.
Slice the potatoes while still warm, cutting them crosswise into 1/2-inch sections. Put the pieces in a large mixing bowl, pour the wine and 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil over them, and toss gently to distribute. Add the warm vegetables from the pan, mustard, chives, chopped herbs, salt, and pepper, and gently fold all together, mixing well but not crushing the potatoes. Taste the salad and add more seasonings as you like.
Serve the potatoes warm (no colder than room temperature). Arrange the large radicchio leaves, if you have them, in a close circle on the serving platter, with their curved insides up, to form a rough bowl. Spoon the potato salad inside the leaves, sprinkle chopped egg around the edges, and parsley over the top.