All foods have a season, and all seasons have their foods. The tastes of summer include such favorites as corn on the cob, ice cream, strawberry shortcake, grilled burgers, hot dogs, brats, homegrown tomatoes, fresh fish, barbecue ribs, and watermelon. But, there are few dishes more quintessentially summer than potato salad.
Most of us are familiar with some version of potato salad, whether it’s the traditional American style with mayonnaise dressing, the German variety made with a vinaigrette of oil and vinegar, or something in between. There are endless ways to prepare a potato salad, and each family seems to have their own special recipe.
Our favorite recipe happens to be my mother’s, and we make it several times each summer. My mother, Marilyn Anstett, is a terrific cook and was even awarded a Betty Crocker scholarship once upon a time. Tony enjoys cooking with her almost as much as he loves eating her food, and we’ve adopted several of her recipes into our own repertoire.
Her potato salad is such a winner that we’ve even featured it as a side dish at Sarello’s, where it earned rave reviews. My mom and Tony share a similar approach to cooking, which is probably why they get along so well: Use the best-quality ingredients, keep it simple and let the food speak for itself. This recipe is a great example of their shared philosophy.
With only four main ingredients, the simplicity of this recipe is what makes it so good. My mom’s innate understanding of food enables her to choose ingredients which balance one another, to find their harmony, if you will, and her creations often linger in our memories long after they’ve been devoured.
We love her use of Yukon Gold potatoes, with their buttery smooth skins (or jackets), creamy texture, and pretty, yellow flesh. There is a subtle sweetness to these potatoes, which is further enhanced by the brightness of the cider vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette (another plus, since I’m “allergic” to mayonnaise). And, with their bright green color and mild flavor, the scallions are the perfect ingredient to round out this dish.
Yukon Gold potatoes are mellow, and their medium starch content makes them incredibly versatile. Because they hold their shape well, they’re the perfect potato to use in salads, soups, and baked dishes like scalloped or au gratin potatoes.
Yukon Gold potatoes were developed in the 1960s by G.R. Johnston and R.G. Rowberry, at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, which is nowhere near the Yukon. They chose the name as they liked its marketability and reference to the gold color of the potato. Interestingly, one of the two potatoes used in their initial cross test was the Norgleam potato, which is native to North Dakota.
My mom has prepared this simple summer side dish with and without the skins, but Tony prefers them with skin on in this recipe. If you choose to remove the skins, wait until they’re just cool enough to touch as they will be easier to peel. She has also added capers and Dijon mustard at times, but this classic version is our favorite.
Marilyn’s Potato Salad is one of our summertime staples for several reasons. It’s easy to make, ideal for large groups, is best when served at room temperature, and can be made ahead of time. What’s more, its neutral flavor makes it the perfect complement for a host of different foods. And, of course, it’s also downright delicious.