The 4th of July means picnics and BBQs, even here in Berlin, where there is a large enough German Fulbright Alumni group to merit a full-blown 4th of July celebration. The fact that the Germany-Italy semi-final match coincides only helps. My contribution: a bowl of potato salad. The play-by-play follows the recipe (ingredients and directions), as usual.
This recipe is based rather strongly on the Betty Crocker “Old-Fashioned Potato Salad” recipe, but I add radishes and am not as particular in the number of potatoes and amount of onion that I use. Other easy variations involve the type of mustard used. In this case I had a standard brown mustard available, not particularly strong, but not as sweet as the usual American yellow mustard.
First, the potatoes. Whenever possible I go for baby reds, but I was short on time and options, so I just picked up some rather standard whites from my corner market. Avoid baking potatoes like russets. Larger potatoes can be cut in half before being added to the water, which is what I did with the awkwardly shaped one in the photograph.
I did not add too much water to the pan, at most two inches. After starting the potatoes, in a smaller pan I added enough water to cover two eggs with an inch to spare, dumped in two eggs, and turned the level up to 5. My range does not go to 11. By this time the potatoes began to boil, so I reduced the heat to 1, and since the pot was covered, things continued to simmer. The potatoes got the full 20 minute treatment here. Once the pot containing the eggs began to boil, I removed it from the heat, covered the pot, and let the eggs sit for about 18 minutes. More on the eggs and potatoes later, but first, the vegetables.
Earlier in the after noon I noticed that I was out of fresh vegetables, and decided to stop by my local SPAR to get the necessary ingredients. They had potatoes, and I also got a bag of onions there, but radishes and celery were not to be found. Luckily the small market on the corner had radishes, 45 cents/bunch, but no celery. So, I took a 5+ minute walk to the former-SPAR, now an EDEKA Aktiv-Markt, on Rosenthalerstrasse, found my celery, also picked up some buttermilk, and returned home.
Here we see before-and-after shots of the veggies. I prefer to prepare the vegetables while the potatoes and eggs are cooking, and then set them aside in bowls, or even just one bowl ... but a single bowl would not have provided such a moving and pleasing last photograph.
I did not use the entire bunch of radishes, only a bit more than a half dozen individual radishes, I suspect. The rest sit in my fridge awaiting use in a green salad.
Back to the incredible, edible eggs. It almost seems a shame to have to chop them, since a hard-boiled egg on its own is such a wonderful food, especially when served with a little salt and pepper. Plus, they can last for many days in a refrigerator ... what is not to like?
In any case, once their 18 minutes were up, I poured the water from the pot, and then ran cold water over the eggs until they cooled. Then I set them aside for a few minutes while I took care of other tasks, which, in the course of my narrative, follow this paragraph. Only then did I return to my two eggs, crack them on the ends with a knuckle, and peel off the shells. Using a small and somewhat dull paring knife I sliced them into small-ish pieces and put them in the bowl you see here.
Another digression: mayonnaise, vinegar, and mustard. I used three different brands. Die Sparsamen was the house/generic brand at SPAR, but EDEKA, which is the parent company, has shifted everything to Gut & Günstig. I bought my mayonnaise last fall because I figured I would get around to making some tuna sandwiches, but that has not happened, and only today did I crack open the jar. I picked up the Werder brand mustard back when I was eating some brats in the fall and winter; the jar was mostly empty, but it still contained enough mustard for my purposes.
I did not bother photographing the salt and pepper. There is pretentious presentation, and then there is pretentious presentation with salt and pepper.
I used the larger of my two green plastic bowls. The smaller is the one I use for making carrot-nut bread and cornbread. The larger of the two is really a medium sized bowl, but it is the largest I have, and more than enough for this particular salad. I used a potato or so fewer than usual, which reduced the volume of my salad a bit, but also made it a bit creamier. With a spoon I mixed the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper as seen.
Then I added the potatoes, which, after they had been drained and had cooled, I chopped into cubes. The key here is not to over-cook the potatoes, otherwise they will merely fall apart. Also, if they are not cool enough, they will also fall apart. A little disintegration is perfectly fine, and adds to the texture of the salad. Once the potatoes mixed with the dressing, I added the veggies and eggs. There is no need to stir them in separately.
I added a layer of plastic wrap and placed the bowl in my refrigerator. 3–4 hours for the flavors to soak in and blend is best; anything less and you have a bland potato salad. This recipe always goes over well at picnics. As usual, refrigerate any left-overs.
—July 4 2006