There’s a potato salad that’s sold at the supermarket near our flat in London. It haunts me at night; gloopy with mayonnaise, thickened by an alphabet soup of letters that make up stabilisers. The potato seems floury, cubes of bland pap held together by starch and a little sadness. There are speckles of colour through it, though for the life of me I can’t identify which vegetables they once belonged to. And each day there are hoard of people lining up to buy it as part of a shockingly cheap lunch deal.
Surely we; both us and the potatoes deserve better.
Potato salad is food for celebration; for hoards of hungry mouths. Food for barbecues and gatherings. Food for feasting.
As a child I most looked forward to Christmas day for the large platter of it that my mother would make. Thick with carbohydrates, broken only by small speckles of shallot and on some years; boiled egg. It was best eaten by the forkful alternating with fat slices of Christmas ham while salt water from the swimming pool dripped down your arm, contributing extra seasoning.
As an adult, one of my more shameful memories is having to be hauled out of this, most beautiful wedding by The Hungry One. Late into the night I’d gone into the kitchen to say goodbye to the family. It was there, after the adrenalin of speech making, the excitement of dancing barefoot on long grass under 100 pale moons that I found them raiding the fridge.
There was a large bowl of potato salad, which I promptly commandeered, shovelling splade after splade into my slightly tipsy gob. When The Hungry One finally found me, he told me I’d been gone for more than half an hour.
Good potato salad is more than celebratory. It has the ability to stop time.
This is a very good potato salad. For the last few months I’ve been keeping the starchy carbohydrates at a minimum. For the book shoot. For general health and well being. And also, to see if I could.
If anything can break the spell, it’s this salad.
The secret is in the herbs and textures. Good potatoes have a sweetness of their own when boiled- but add to that home made aioli, pistachio with mint and basil and it’s lifted higher. Add some gentle strands of courgette and sharp slivers of red onion, as well as some small rounds of shallot and you’ll find yourself up at another level again.
This is a salad that is happily made ahead and served for a crowd. The only things not to skimp on are the quality of the potatoes; good, firm little waxy ones are best. I also find it best to start the cooking in cold water, then bring them all up to the boil together helps maintain a friendly texture. Then break them with your hands, rather than cutting them. A few rustic edges are the quickest way to show that this is one salad that wasn’t bought at Tesco.
Dress the salad while the potatoes are still warm- they’ll drink up the flavours quicker than me with a glass of pink wine at a wedding. Then try and keep it at room temperature for serving. Unless of course visions of it come at night. There is a small chance you’ll be overcome with the need to eat a little bit more, in the singular beam of the fridge light.
If that happens, just go with it. Far be it for me to judge.
Perfect herbed potato salad
Serves 4-6 as part of a barbecue or celebratory menu
For the salad
1 kg new potatoes/jersey royals
1/2 red onion
Zest of half a lemon
Juice of half a lemon
3 spring onions
For the herb aioli
2 egg yolks
100 ml olive oil
100 ml vegetable oil
1 large handful of picked basil leaves
1 large handful of picked mint leaves
Salt and pepper
Here’s how we roll
2) Place the egg yolks in a clean bowl. Whisk together for 30 seconds, then slowly trickle the oil in down the side of the bowl, drip by drip to start. Whisk until the oil is emulsified, then add the rest of the oil slowly. (If the mayonnaise splits just take another bowl and place an egg yolk in it. Whisk the egg yolk and slowly trickle in the split mayonnaise. It should bind together). Stir the herb slurry into the mayonnaise and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
3) Set the aioli aside while you boil the potatoes.
4. Cover the potatoes with cold water. Place on the hob and bring the water to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, until a knife easily goes through one of the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and allow to cool for a minute. Break them in half with your hands so you get some rustic edges.
5. Use a vegetable peeler to make ribbons out of the courgette/zucchini. Place them in a large bowl. Cut the red onion into as thin a slivers as you can manage (perhaps use a mandolin). Cut the green and white parts of the spring onion into thin coins. Add them all to the bowl and squeeze half the lemon over the top. Allow to sit for a few minutes (the acidity will help take some of the bite out of the red onion). Remove the lemon.
6. Add the potatoes and the aioli to the courgette and onions. Stir to combine. Season with extra salt and pepper.
7. Keep covered at room temperature. It’s best if the flavours have a few hours to get to know each other before serving.