Ah, summer! It's the season when meats and veggies are kissed by the flames of a grill and come to the table accompanied by classic summer salads, like coleslaw and potato salad. What could be more typically American than a backyard barbeque featuring the creamy goodness of potato salad? Well, as it turns out, we didn't invent the stuff. Potato salad was first made by Spaniards, who cooked potatoes with white wine and dressed them in a vinaigrette seasoned with fresh herbs. The French developed a very similar potato salad - often served warm. But the French get some credit for American style potato salad, since they invented mayonnaise. Like many great foods, mayo was a happy accident. Thanks goes to the TLC website for this bit of history:
"Mayonnaise was invented in 1756 by the French chef of the Duc de Richelieu. After the Duc beat the British at Port Mahon, his chef created a victory feast that was to include a sauce made of cream and eggs. Realizing that there was no cream in the kitchen, the chef substituted olive oil for the cream and a new culinary creation was born. The chef named the new sauce "Mahonnaise" in honor of the Duc's victory."
Many cultures have their own version of potato salad: Russian and Eastern European recipes contain peas and carrots. Syrians have a Middle Eastern spin on potato salad containing chunks of fresh tomato, fresh mint, and a lemony vinaigrette dressing. Germans prepare theirs with a sweet-sour vinegar dressing and bacon, and the salad is eaten warm. Brazilian potato salad features herbs, raw onion, garlic, and a cream dressing. One of my favorite potato salads from around the world is a wonderful Haitian version that is mayo based and contains beets and peas. It's fabulous, trust me!
Here in America there are a number of popular types of potato salad: a red potato salad with a sour cream dressing and fresh herbs, one with a mustard and mayonnaise dressing, and even a salad with a fairly sweet sauce made with sweet pickle chunks. I'm a purist when it comes to my preferred recipe for potato salad. I learned to make it from my mother-in-law, Pam. It has a simple mayonnaise dressing and not very much of it. I like my salad to be primarily about the potatoes, and not to be swimming in a wet mayo dressing. Here's my version of Pam's Potato Salad:
Classic American Potato Salad
6 medium potatoes - Red Bliss or Yukon Gold
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/3 to ½ cup mayonnaise, depending on your taste
2 tablespoons mustard
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
4 large boiled eggs, sliced
Scrub potatoes clean and remove bad looking spots. Boil potatoes whole until tender. Drain well. Peel off skin of potatoes, if desired. Cut potatoes into rough chunks as soon as you can handle them. Stir in vinegar and salt while potatoes are warm. Cool potatoes and fold in remaining ingredients. Chill completely before serving.