After learning how to cook a pot of rice and folding up dumplings, my mom gave me the task of making potato salad for our family. It wasn’t a boiled potato, pickles and mayo affair. It was Salade Russe, a magenta combination of beets, potato, carrot, egg, and onion seasoned with a vinaigrette. The Russian-French preparation is part of the Vietnamese repertoire, a tasty remnant of the country’s colonial past.
While I still make salade Russe nowadays, it takes a little planning because I roast the beets to concentrate their flavor. Plus, the salad needs to thoroughly chill to taste extra good. When I make the potato salad of my youth, I follow my recipe on page 186 of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.
When I’m with my husband walking to the store and we decide to make potato salad for a dinner of grilled meat, I take a simplified route. What you see here and the recipe below is what I made earlier this week. No beets were involved. We had the potato salad with grilled ribs and a green salad.
Time wise, I usually allow myself 1 1/2 hours from start to chilled to deem the potato salad ready to serve. It takes roughly 30 minutes to cook and mix the potato salad. The keys to my impromptu potato salad include:
- Start the potato salad before you make other dishes. If there’s meat to be marinated, get a buddy to help you with the multitasking.
- Boil the egg and vegetables in the same large pot of salted water.
- If there are leftover boiled vegetables in the fridge (let’s say you blanched some for a stir-fry or composed salad), toss them in!
- Use the fresh herbs you have on hand – parsley, dill, mint, tarragon
- Use a vertical noodle strainer to make cooking and retrieving the beans and carrots a snap. Mine clips on the side of the pot though some don’t do that. They’re well priced at Asian markets and restaurant supply shops. This is the kind of strainer that Asian noodle soup makers use. It's a workhorse.
- Undercook the vegetables slightly so you can add them hot the bowl of seasonings. They’ll slightly wilt the onion and absorb the seasonings better.
- Refrigerate the potato salad in a baking dish to hasten the chilling effect. Stir it every 15 to 20 minutes.
Impromptu Potato Salad
Yield: 6 servings
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced, rinsed under water and drained well
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar or cider vinegar
- A spatula’s plop of mayonnaise (about 1/4 cup)
- Splash of canola or olive oil
- Handful of chopped fresh herbs (2 to 3 tablespoons)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 carrots
- 8 to 12 ounces green beans
- 3 white or red boiling potatoes (about 1 pound total)
- Put the eggs into large pot of salted water. Crank the heat to high.
- Meanwhile, combine the onion, vinegar, mayonnaise and herbs in a bowl. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Add a pinch of sugar if you want to soften the blow a tad. Aim for a bite because the potatoes will suck up the dressing flavor. Set near the stove.
- Meanwhile, peel and cut the carrots into 1/2-inch dice. Set aside. Cut the green beans into 1/2 to 3/4-inch pieces. Set aside. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Swish the potato in a bowl of water to loosen some of the starch, then drain well. Set aside.
- When the water comes to a boil, transfer the carrot to a vertical strainer and cook them in boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes until tender firm. Lift them out, shake the strainer, then dump the carrots into the bowl of dressing. (If you don’t have a vertical strainer, dump the carrot in and retrieve them with a slotted spoon.)The egg should be done by now. Retrieve them, rinse in cold water, set aside to cool (cook the beans per the next step while you wait). Peel the eggs when they’re ready, roughly chop them, then add to the dressing.
- Boil the green beans using the vertical strainer for 3 to 4 minutes. Strain, shake and dump into the bowl. Add the potatoes to the pot (no strainer needed). Boil for 4 to 6 minutes until moderately firm. Drain well but don’t rinse. Dump the hot potatoes into the bowl. Toss well, taste and adjust the flavor as needed. Transfer to a shallow baking dish and refrigerate, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until chilled. (It’s okay if it’s not totally cold!) Stir occasionally to facilitate cooling. Taste and season again, then serve. Store leftovers in a covered container for up to 3 days.
What’s your approach to potato salad? Got any potato salad tips? One of mine is that potato salad always takes more vinegar than I think.
Related posts: if you're into perfecting boiled eggs