Picnic-safe Potato Salad

picnicA lot of people have paid the price for eating their great-aunt Bessy’s famous mayonnaise-based potato salad at the family picnic in the heat of summer. Mayo and eggs left to percolate on a hot day are the perfect petri dish medium for growing nasty bacteria.  The French, who know a thing or two about picnicking, favor recipes using olive oil and wine, with a touch of wine vinegar. It’s a much safer option for that picnic…but keeping it cool is still a good idea.

There’s some disagreement about whether red or russet-type potatoes are best for potato salad.  Waxy reds hold together better, but russets absorb seasonings better.  Since this salad is really, really about the seasonings you should go with russets or Yukon Gold. Just try not to cook them too long.  Buy small or medium sized spuds, wash well, and cook with skins, then peel while still warm. The wine and oil is poured over the still-warm cubed potatoes, which will ensure maximum absorption.  As always, use a wine you would actually drink, such as a dry chardonnay or pinot grigio, and quality olive oil. Flavored olive oils like lemon or herb-infused work well too. When potatoes are fully cooled you can add the vinegar and anything else you like for flavor and crunch.  Thinly sliced red or green onion, chopped chives or other herbs (cilantro, dill or parsley are good), thin slices of radishes, jicama, carrots, celery or sweet peppers are all good options. You might even consider lightly steamed, still crunchy thin green beans, tiny raw peas, or sturdy baby greens like spinach, arugula or mustard.

Picnic-safe Potato Salad

  • 6 medium or 8-9 small russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 -2 tablespoons salt for cooking the potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or sherry vinegar, or other flavored vinegar
  • ½ cup chopped herbs such as parsley, dill, or cilantro
  • ½ cup chopped onion or chives
  • ½ cup thinly sliced radishes or other vegetables

Put the washed, unpeeled potatoes in a pot large enough to cover them by 1½ inches of salted water, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer.  Cook until a knife just pierces them easily, about 20-25 minutes.  Drain and put them in an ice bath. When cool enough to handle, peel (or not, they’re fine with peelings intact) and cut into chunks or slices.  Pour the wine and oil over them and set aside to cool completely.

When potatoes are cool, add the vinegar, pepper, herbs and vegetables and toss lightly, taking care not to break up the potatoes. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to blend flavors. Serve at room temperature for best taste.

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