About a year ago as I was doing some errands in preparation for the 4th of July holiday, I was very lucky to catch a radio program on the local NPR station regarding classic Independence Day Cook Out dishes. It's funny how one chance circumstance can change how you prepare a dish forever. This was the day that my Potato Salad prep took a turn for the better.
I'd always enjoyed preparing fresh potato salad, but had never stumbled upon a recipe that I considered to be superb. It always seemed to lack a certain flavor or pizzazz. I think a big stumbling block for me is that I rarely stuck to a recipe. I usually consult my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook's Potato Salad Recipe, but quickly divert depending on my mood that day.
One guest chef was conveying his particular dislike of mayonnaise based salads at cook outs. Not for the obvious health related food borne illness concerns, but rather because he has a dislike for mayonnaise in general.
Not a person after my heart. I love mayonnaise.
Some people eat butter by the spoonful, some people eat frosting by the spoonful, I even knew a kid that used to eat Crisco by the spoonful. Personally, I prefer to sneak in a spoonful of mayonnaise now and then, especially when I am pregnant.
So, in my mind I am totally dismissing this chef's opinion due to his blasphemous statements regarding mayonnaise when he spits out the most wonderful gem of information. A tidbit that I have held dear to my heart ever since. He offered up that hot potatoes will absorb vinegar, and the vinegar is the vehicle that carries the flavor of your seasonings into the potato.
Wow. Some of you won't understand what I have to say next, but some of you will totally get it.
I felt like a veil of ignorance had been lifted and the joy of enlightenment descended upon me, This would forever change my approach to the preparation of potato salad.
His suggestion was to add whatever herbs or spices you want to use to flavor your potato salad to vinegar. Allow this to steep for a bit and then pour the vinegar over the potatoes while they are still hot. Cool the potato and vinegar mixture in the refrigerator and then mix in the mayonnaise or sour cream once they have cooled completely. If I am using celery or onions to the salad, I will mix them in at the same time as the vinegar. This will slightly cook the celery and onions and carry those flavors into the potatoes as well.
He also offered up a recipe for mock mayonnaise which he prefers to use for creamy salads. I really wish I could remember which program this was on for I would love to try his recipe, even though I am a mayonnaise aficionado. If any of you heard this program and can recall the details please pass them on. It was a great program full of info, lots of which I have forgotten.
This preparation method makes total sense, and now that I have prepared multiple batches of potato salad this way, it is the one step in the process that doesn't change. Now I understand why I used to enjoy German style potato salad much more than American style. The secret is in the vinegar.
Wishing everyone a very happy Independence Day!