Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th Musings on Potato Salad

It's the 4th of July, and I made potato salad.

I will be the first to admit-- and openly declare-- that I loathe most potato salads. Especially the "bland white" kind found at so many BBQs and picnics... which-- to my way of thinking-- amounts to little more than tasteless, mayo-infused mashed potatoes with a hint of pickle-juice flavoring.

No disrespect to anyone who likes the stuff. I just don't.

In my world, potato salad is supposed to taste of something.

It is supposed to be able to stand alone, and hold its own against spicy, tangy, heavy and deliciously flavorful BBQ.

Don't get me started on flavorless BBQ, either...

I grew up with potato salad in Denmark. My mom's was bland as F%$#!* and I didn't like it. However, my Aunt Ulla's was stellar, robustly flavored and based on a substance known in the family as "Dad's Lobster Sauce."

"Dad," in this case was my grandfather; my aunt's father.

I'm not sure there was ever an official recipe for "Dad's Lobster Sauce;" my impression has always been that it was created through some delicate blend of genetic inheritance and alchemy... my aunt would make fairly large batches of it, bottle it and distribute bottles of it to family members who seemed worthy of possessing the sacred drops. The rest she kept and used for flavoring in a wide range of hot and cold dishes, dressings, sauces and other things.

Oddly enough, my own father didn't much like it. "Tastes too Danish," he'd say, and turn his nose up.

But I digress.

The point is that "Dad's Lobster Sauce" packed an explosion of intense flavor, and I loathe bland potato salad.

Absent "Dad's Lobster Sauce," I spent some 8-10 years coming up with a potato salad that was some reasonable facsimile of what I grew up with. Much of this experimentation took place after I'd left Denmark; at least half of it after I'd moved to Texas.

In spite of occasionally battling performance anxiety, I have made my potato salad in front of dozens of people, for dozens of festive occasions. Dozens of same people have been outraged and baffled by the ingredients I use... and have let me known in no uncertain terms:

"Potato salad isn't supposed to be pink!"

"Where is the celery? Where are the mustard seeds?"

"Eeewww! You can't put YOGURT in potato salad!"

"OMG! You're putting cocktail sauce in it? Curry?"

The exclamations have been many and varied... as have the facial expressions and wrinkling of noses. As a concession to popular demand, I eventually agreed to add eggs... even though there were never eggs in potato salad, when I grew up. Eggs were for egg salad. But I kinda like them in there...

Of course, the point of this story is that 90% of the skeptics have been very surprised, once they tasted the finished product... often inspiring statements such as "Wow... I'm surprised-- this actually tasted REALLY good" and even "Will you make a huge batch of this for my next BBQ party?"

I once made a batch for 150+ people. I thought I'd made a lot. There was not even a tiny scrap left over.

I suppose the bottom line here-- which I also take to heart, myself-- is that just because something is nothing like what you're familiar with doesn't mean you won't like it.

Happy Birthday, America!

1 comment:

  1. Yum! Next time I come to Washington, will you make some for me please?


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