One dish I might distinctly call American is Potato Salad, well that is if one refers to some of the similar yet distinct versions of the famous side dish often served at gatherings, picnics, and parties when I was growing up, then, among various families from among varied places each to their own, there were the Potato Salad Snobs.
Potato Salad snobbery even affected whole clans surrounding this favorite side dish of American tradition including the children of families who would declare their mother’s version as simply the best and sometimes not even consider sampling a version of another’s.
Mostly these Potato Salads were variations to include the use of different select type potatoes chopped hard-boiled eggs, assorted pickles, mustard combined with mayonnaise, or just plain overloaded mayonnaise.
I suppose if I am to out the Potato Salad snobs of my childhood I should too admit I was secretly probably the biggest among them, but not because I harbored any illusions of my own Mom making such superior, potato salad (although she actually made what some today might consider a more desirable healthy ‘light’ potato salad.) More so, those whitish, yellowish, sometimes green specked filled big sized bowls sitting on top long red checked tablecloths covering the long red wood picnic tables in the full heat of the sun for hours plain out scared me and I would never touch them.
The key word that came to mind, and not so frequently used today was ‘Tomain’ poisoning which is actually spelled with a P, Ptomaine. Overladen mayonnaise mixed together with potatoes then transformed to ‘smushed’ was something I silently feared would bring on the ‘Tomain’ and so thus all together avoided, especially if it came with the addition of smashed up hard- boiled eggs, even worse, mustard mixed with what seemed like a giant sized jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise. Yuk.
Everyone was avoiding ‘Tomain’ poisoning or regularly mentioning it in any event, when I was little; making it then surprising few made any connections with heavily laden mayonnaise based American food side dishes sitting out for hours in the hot sun and even more striking that folks so rarely ever became ill following these large annual ceremonious gatherings.
It’s only fair to clarify I’ve nothing against Hellman’s mayonnaise, and I even use it at home. Mayonnaise jarred or fresh in general performs its essence in many assorted foods and dishes, but for me, just so long as its not overdone or mixed in at such proportions as to make the true nature of the featured food ingredient something else altogether, including unrecognizable.
As I grew up and made my own American style version of potato salad I much tended towards that of my own mother and grandmother including some fresh chopped celery, onions or scallions, celery seed, chopped parsley, and a small amount of mayonnaise, perhaps with a touch of added vinegar for thinning and flavoring.
Then one day it happened, I found there was possibly a silent yet real preexisting Potato Salad Snobbery in my very own clan and it was my grandmother (Grams). Readying an upcoming event, Grams announced she had prepared her own version potato salad for the following day’s outdoor gathering for purposes of just having her own, admitting to me distress on what turned out to be our commonly same Potato Salad particulars, the overdosed mayonnaise, the mixed together indistinguishable ingredients and lastly, it was, the ‘Tomain’.
Grams would love the varieties of Potato Salads served today, including todays featured Potato Salad, kind of Nicoise or Mediterranean style with the green beans and Kalamata olives, anchovies and capers dressing. Grams would also love that with healthier food trends of today folks have more frequently taken to preparing those American Picnic Potato Salads focused more on bringing out the flavor of the fresh ingredients as the potato, rather than how much could be dressed into it. Perhaps Grams was ahead of her time, or perhaps she one among previous generations who just thought the fresher, lighter, plainer was really the more flavorful, superior food preparation. Either way, it goes to show that families may share common distinguishing taste preferences about specific food ingredients, their preparations, combinations and techniques, even those of visual presentation, included among them, the Potato Salad snobs.
- 1 1/2-2 pounds small fingerling size gold potatoes, roasted, peeled, and cubed
- 3 scallions, chopped fine both green and white parts
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 10-12 Kalamata olives, pitted, and quartered
- 3/4 cup fresh green beans, strings removed, blanched in boiling water then refreshed in ice water, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, adjusted to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 hard boiled eggs, shells removed, sliced and chopped into even sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 5-6 flat anchovies, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Mix rinsed potatoes with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper then roast in oven until fork tender all the way through, cool to room temperature then peel and cube. Add potatoes into a large glass bowl then gently stir in the scallions, parsley, green beans, Kalamata olives, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Into a small processor add the chopped capers, chopped anchovies, lemon juice, champagne vinegar and pulse lightly, then add in the olive oil in 2 batches pulsing until the olive oil emulsifies with the ingredients. Use a spatula to scrape out dressing from small processor and pour into a small bowl until ready to serve.
- When ready to serve, stir the anchovy, caper dressing into the potato salad until coated throughout. Taste for any additional desired seasoning. Sprinkle chopped hard boiled egg over the potato salad and serve.