Whether you say potato or poTAHto, you may be thinking 2020's a good year to call the whole thing off.
Sure, Memorial Day barbecues are generally pot-lucky affairs. Grandma brings her famous peach cobbler, grandpa does up the collards (with six pounds of bacon) and someone inevitably shows up with canned baked beans and a Publix cookie cake, but no one cares.
It’s a tasty group effort, and you shouldn’t let COVID-related guest limitations put you off celebrating.
“It’s one of those holidays where everyone gets together and brings something to the table,” says Nat Russell, chef/owner of the Tennessee Truffle, which has been keeping Sanford steeped in Southern flavors for four years now. “This is sort of a sad year. We can’t do that quite the way we have in the past. And so hopefully, people will want to stick to backyard tradition.”
And potato salad, he says, is definitely part of it.
Some are creamy and smooth, others chunky, laden with extras — eggs, bacon, pickle relish.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like potato salad,” says Russell, laughing, “but everyone has their own recipe, and everyone thinks their family’s is the best. It’s fun to have your own, to try everyone else’s.”
Russell’s offers up brightness and snap with fresh tarragon and vinegary onions you’ll pickle yourself. I did, and it was so unbelievably easy I made another new batch immediately, just to have around for salads, sandwiches, whatever. I recommend making extra; they’d be great on a char-grilled hot dog or burger all by themselves.
The onions add color, too, as do the red potato skins and fresh herbs.
Another nice thing about potato salad? “It’s pretty inexpensive to make,” Russell offers, “and perfect for a hot Memorial Day weekend.”
I cut Russell’s recipe in half and still ended up with a glut of leftovers. But not to worry, there’s loads to do with ‘em, he says, noting that mashing them into patties you can pan fry (not unlike leftover Thanksgiving potatoes) is probably the easiest.
“You can also do more of a croquette,” he notes. “Just add an egg and a small amount of flour — even cheese — and do a standard breading. Do a partial freeze — not all the way — and fry them up!”
Wanna get real cheffy (without getting too cheffy at all)?
Russell, who makes fish quite often, says the leftovers — heated with fresh arugula or a veggie succotash — can serve as a killer side with a beurre blanc (a simple butter/wine sauce). “You can just sit the fish on top for a really nice entrée.”
Whether a starchy side for seafood or a simple stack-on for your hot dog, potatoes are pure comfort. And really, who couldn’t use a little more of that right now?
Recipe courtesy of Nat Russell
- 5 lbs. red potatoes
- Pickled red onions, reserve a small amount of pickling liquid (recipe below)
- 1-2 cups of aioli (recipe below)
- 1 quart of a neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, vegetable)
- 3 eggs (1 whole and two yolks)
- 1/3 cup fresh chives
- 1/3 cup scallions
- 1/3 cup fresh tarragon
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
Fill a large pot with water, add a tablespoon of salt and place beside cutting board as you set to boil. Chop potatoes evenly (quarter a medium potato; cute a larger one into sixths). Keeping water close will prevent potatoes from browning. Bring pot to a simmer, skimming any impurities. Cook until fork tender, easy to mash. About 15-20 minutes.
Strain cooked potatoes. Place on a sheet tray to cool, about 10 minutes.
While cooling, mince pickled onions and rough chop herbs.
Once cool, rough mash half the potatoes and place in large bowl with the chunks. Add half the aioli and all the pickled onions and herbs. Fold together. Add more aioli if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with some chopped scallions. (Serves 10-15 people.)
Pickled red onions
- 1 large red onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup vinegar (Chef Nat recommended red wine; I spaced it and used cider; still turned out great)
- ½ cup sugar (okay to sub honey or agave)
- Any pickling spices you like (Black peppercorns, mustard seed, coriander seed, dill seed….)
Place onions in ice water for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, add vinegar, sugar, spices and a pinch of salt to a pot of water, simmer at a rolling boil until sugar dissolves. Drain onions from ice water and place in heat-safe boil. Pour pot ingredients over onions (straining through a sieve to remove seeds). Stick in the fridge to cool, minimum 10 minutes. I left mine in the fridge overnight and they were delicious.
Place one whole egg and two yolks in blender. Blend on low speed, slowly adding oil in steady stream until it begins to thicken, like mayonnaise. (If it gets too thick, add a teaspoon of water at a time until thin enough to add remaining oil.) Turn off blender. Add mustard and a tablespoon of pickling liquid, season with salt and pepper. Pulse and taste for roundness and salt.