I have firm opinions about potato salad. It should be firm. An ice cream scoop of potato salad should hold its shape. It should be eggy and scattered with chopped celery. A sprinkling of vinegar over the cooked potatoes helps pick up the flavor. Unfortunately, I have been unable to produce such a potato salad. The people who can produce it seem to be primarily African American cooks. A friend of mine had an African American household employee who used to give us containers of potato salad to take on our campouts in the fields. Even though we had a full menu of main course, vegetables, potatoes baked in the coals and sometimes even soup, I insisted that we take Minnie's potato salad.
I ran into it again 25 years later at a picnic I organized for a group of people at my primarily African American church. We had all been either confirmed or baptized together, and I wanted us to have a social event. I remember exclaiming over some potato salad, "Wow. This is delicious. It's just like my friend's .....mother, used to make." Major embarrassment avoided in the nick of time.
This recipe is not for that kind of potato salad. This is naked potato salad. It has a wine based dressing, and a sprinkling of herbs. No mayonnaise, no celery, no green onions. Nonetheless, it is not without charm. The dressing brings out the flavor of the potatoes, which are especially good served with cold beets in French dressing. It is lighter than mayonnaise based potato salad.
I served it last Saturday night when my son and daughter-in-law came over for a barbeque. Son is barbeque king. Their backyard, slightly larger than a postage stamp, contains a grill that would serve the survivors of a shipwreck to float several hundred miles to their rescue. He immediately took over the grilling of the boneless pork shoulder strips. I had already made the potato salad since it had to chill.
The biggest issue in this dish is the Pernod or Ricard used to flavor the potatoes. Pernod and Ricard (pronounced Ree-kard) are anise, or licorice flavored drinks from France, known as aperitifs. I am pretty much on board with all of French culture, especially its cuisine, but the rage for the aperitif escapes me. The idea is great. Everyone sits down before dinner, has a drink and perhaps cheese and crackers and talks over their day. It's what they drink that I don't like. In my somewhat limited experience, aperatifs might be wine, but generally are not. They are, shall we say, wines made from something other than grapes. They have an unusual taste.
According to the Pernod Ricard corporate website, Pernod is known in the south of France for its thirst quenching properties. It tastes alright. I like some other licorice flavored drinks, such as ouzo from Greece and Sambucca from Italy. It's major problem is, 1. We don't drink it, and 2. It is expensive.
With the dog in tow, I went to my little neighborhood liquor store, which is run by some tired looking Chinese gentlemen and asked them for a small bottle of Pernod. He brought out a standard size bottle. Together with a bottle of Bulgarian wine he talked me into buying (Hint: don't) the bill came to $53. I told the proprietor to put the Pernod back on the shelf and took the dog six blocks north to the larger liquor store across the street from Starbucks. It turned out that Pernod costs around $40 a bottle, whether you buy it at tiny Sheffield Liquors or great big Circle Liquors. With a sigh of resignation, I paid Circle Liquors and trotted home with my coffee and my expensive bottle of aperitif.
My son and his wife were polite about the naked potato salad. They ate it, but did not wolf it down in the quantities consumed this Sunday at our barbeque for our daughter. (Any wolfing would have been done by my son. Daughter-in-law does not wolf.) If you find traditional potato salad heavy but enjoy cold potatoes, this dish might be for you.
French Potato Salad
8 medium sized potatoes
boiling salted water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Pernod, Ricard or other anise-flavored liqueur
2 tablespoons beef broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 tablespoon chopped tarragon
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup oil
1. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender but still firm.
2. Peel the potatoes while still warm and cut into slices one-quarter-inch thick. Place in a salad bowl.
3. In another bowl, combine the salt, pepper, vinegar, Pernod broth and wine. Mix until the salt dissolves.
4. Add the tarragon, parsley and oil and mix well. Pour over the potatoes and toss gently but thoroughly until all the liquid is absorbed. Makes four to six servings.