A few sure bets accompany Memorial Day weekend, our unofficial start of summer. Think beer with brats, relish for hot dogs, potato salad for picnics.
How that potato salad should look and taste, though, is subject to wide interpretation – not just in your neighborhood, but throughout the globe. Much of the world loves potatoes, so international spins on potato salad are plentiful.
The type of potato matters: thin-skinned red to buttery yellow to firm fingerlings to ordinary russets. Do the skins come off or stay on? Are the spuds sliced, diced or served in chunks? Does knife work happen before or after boiling?
Sauciness varies. Is the star ingredient mayo, olive oil or something else? Poured on or mixed in? Served warm or chilled? Flavored beyond salt and pepper?
We count on sometimes-quirky little extras too, be it the slivered scallions of spring, jalapeno-spiked dressing, a squirt of mustard or finely chopped gherkin.
All said, our expectations of potato salad greatness are built on fond, personal memories. Pride of heritage too.
Least foreign to Wisconsin cooks is classic German potato salad, typically made with boiled red salad potatoes that are peeled, sliced and covered with a warm sauce of fried bacon, bacon drippings, onion, vinegar and sugar.
Even Barbara Froemming, president of the Swedish American Historical Society of Wisconsin, favors a German potato salad recipe, one passed down from mother-in-law Florence Nickel Froemming.
“As far as the Swedes are concerned, they love their potatoes, but I have never had a Swedish potato salad,” she says.
A tangy, balanced push-pull of sweet and sour is this potato salad’s defining factor. Flour or cornstarch thicken the sauce, which is similar to the hot bacon dressing used on leafy salads
Mader’s Restaurant in Milwaukee and Kegel’s Inn in West Allis have made potato salad this way for many decades. Gib’s on the Lake, a rural Kewaunee supper club with German foods, adds celery salt and slices of hard-boiled eggs to the mix.
Think you have the definitive German recipe? Think again.
“In Germany there are about as many recipes for potato salad as there are people with the surnames Müller, Schmidt, Schmitz, Schied, Schmitt, Maier, Meier, Mayr, Mair and Mayer,” states Culinaria Germany, an encyclopedia of German foods and food traditions.
“The common factor in all these recipes is the potato, and the potatoes have to be boiled – all are in agreement on that point.”
Americans are accustomed to heaping potato salad onto the picnic plate, but not everyone will be comfortable using the same serving utensil during this year of the pandemic.
One Japanese way to present potato salad – and myriad other foods – is to…