Monday, September 10, 2012

Potato Salad German Style

What a hectic summer I've had!  With practically everyone living in my home at one point during the summer (excepting the Aged Parents, whom I traveled regularly to visit), it seemed like one long party!  Picnics and parties in the summer always mean, to me, German Potato Salad.  My mother’s family passed down this recipe to me and my sisters:
     A few potatoes, boiled whole and peeled while hot, then sliced bite-size
     An onion or two, chopped quite small
     A few celery stalks, chopped quite small
     Some bacon, fried till crispy, drained on paper towels and crumbled
    Whisk vinegar into the hot bacon fat, and pour over the mixed vegetables.  Stir well, salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.

You can go pretty far wrong with that recipe, unless you know how it should taste!  But once you get a feel for the proportions, you can make this in different quantities.  A word of warning: Ten pounds of boiled potatoes really warm up your kitchen if you prepare this for the Fourth of July picnic.  And in the photo above, the accompanying pork chop is topped with a dollop of fresh herb-butter.

I’ve tried making some variations on this basic recipe, such as replacing the bacon fat with olive oil (too strongly Italian flavored) or canola oil (too bland).  It works pretty well to drain away the bacon fat down to just the darkest portion, and then add canola oil to achieve the desired quantity of fat.

Also, I’ve used different vinegars, notably balsamic, with varying results.  I still think cider vinegar works best, but maybe that’s because it gets that childhood-comfort-food taste.

You can also add other vegetables.  Parboiled green beans and shredded Savoy cabbage were my favorites, and both improved the nutrition quotient.  Spinach also works well.

But no matter how I play with this recipe, I always get rave reviews.  Many Americans have only ever had a potato salad made with mayo, and if you don’t like mayo, you’ve written off potato salad.

Living in Germany, I’ve discovered that my family’s recipe is different from the traditional one in its use of celery.  Germans seem to prefer cooking with the rootball, rather than the stalks of celery’s.  Most servings of Warm Kartoffelsalat in Germany come topped with chopped parsley, dill or chives.  Chopped fresh herbs may have been outside my German ancestors’ capability.

I’ve also learned that potato salads are not served only during hot weather in Germany, but year-round.  Another mayo-free German Potato Salad, known as Cold Potato Salad, is often served as a side dish year-round.  Simply, one boils the potatoes in their skins, then peels and slices them while hot.  Mix in a finely chopped onion, and some chopped bacon if you wish. Mix together two cups of broth (beef is delicious here) with vinegar to taste, and pour over the potatoes and onions while hot.  Mix and leave to sit for half an hour, and pour off any excess liquid.  Drizzle with olive oil, and season to taste with salt and white pepper, sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve cool. 

Again, in Germany I’ve encountered variations on this recipe, some including capers, or mustard for flavor, or using beer in the liquid, or thickening the liquid with flour.  This last measure is unnecessary if you use a starchy potato or one like Yukon Gold, which is only slightly starchy.  Waxy potatoes such as new potatoes don’t work well in either hot or cold German Potato Salads.

Both of these German Potato Salads are served at moderate temperatures, neither hot nor ice-cold.   The flavors develop more fully at a moderate temperature, and are less of a shock to the palate.

At home in the US over the summer, my husband and I wanted to eat foods we couldn’t get easily or inexpensively in Germany (Mexican!  Barbeque!  Fish!), but the family required some German food to make up for their not being able to join us in Germany.  A few servings of either hot or cold German Potato Salad went a long way towards compensating them.  And if a few pork chops or sausages also came their way, all the better!

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