Every dish needs that little surprise: a interesting texture, an unexpected flavour, or a vibrant colour. Otherwise, food can become boring. Potato salad is an item that has been made badly so many times. I remember eating it at church potlucks as a young person; the older ladies smothered the potatoes in mayonnaise and there might have been some pepper sprinkled on top. That is a boring version of potato salad.
This, on the other hand, is the kind of potato salad that is worth writing about. In Ruth Reichl's book Tender at the Bone (which I read recently for the Kitchen Reader group), she writes about her Aunt Birdie's potato salad: the only recipe Aunt Birdie could make. And Reichl's father would kiss Aunt Birdie's cheek, saying reverently, "You make the world's best potato salad."
What makes this potato salad special is that the onions are just barely cooked in a little vinegar. The result is a slight bite that is still crunchy and very tangy. It's a nice offset to the creamy potatoes. Exactly this kind of little surprise texture and taste is what potato salad needs to stay interesting.
Aunt Birdie's Potato Salad
adapted from Tender at the Bone
450 g baby potatoes, unpeeled
salt and pepper
1 t sugar
1/2 onion, diced very finely
1 T vinegar
2 t water
2 T vegetable oil
Boil the potatoes until just tender. Cool and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Put the rest of the ingredients, except the oil, in a small saucepan. Heat briefly until the liquid is close to boiling and the onions are just a little soft.
Toss the onion mixture with the potatoes and oil.