As I've written before, potato salad is very personal, like spaghetti sauce, grilled cheese sandwiches and exactly how we like our coffee or tea. Some of us recoil at anything sweet — sweet pickles or relish, Miracle Whip — while others don't call it potato salad without that sweet flourish.
But however we prefer it, many of us want it on the Fourth of July, especially if a barbecue is part of our tradition.
I think potato salad is usually best, with a few exceptions, when made with waxy rather than mealy potatoes, which can fall apart and almost mash themselves if cooked too long. Mashed potato salad is actually a classic dish in certain regions of the world, but it is best when it's intentional, not accidental.
For the best potato salads, get local dry-farmed potatoes, as they have much more flavor than generic supermarket potatoes. You'll find them at farmers markets.
It is important, no matter what style of potato salad you are making, to dress the potatoes while they are still warm. You don't have to add a full dressing at this point, as you'll see in Marshall House Potato Salad, though you can. Just be sure to reserve some to add as you complete the salad.
For more potato salad recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit Eat This Now at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Potatoes and mussels are great companions, and many salads combine them, some with few other ingredients, others with a lot of seasonal vegetables. I keep my version fairly simply so that the earthy potatoes and succulent briny mussels shine through.
Potato and Mussel Salad
Makes 8 to 10 servings
3 pounds small new potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
— Kosher salt
— Juice of 2 lemons
? cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
5 to 6 pounds PEI mussels, scrubbed
— Black pepper in a mill
3 shallots or 1 red onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon best-quality white wine vinegar, such as Banyuls
? cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Put the potatoes into a medium saucepan, cover with water by at least 2 inches, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 7 to 9 minutes, depending on exact thickness.
Drain thoroughly and transfer to a wide shallow bowl. Reserve a tablespoon of lemon juice and drizzle the rest over the potatoes, along with half the olive oil. Set aside.
Meanwhile, set a large heavy skillet or a stove-top griddle over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with a little pan and if it sizzles immediately, it is ready; if not, heat another minutes or so and test again.
When the pan or griddle is very hot, add a single layer of mussels, which will begin to pop open almost immediately. Agitate the pan or gently move the mussels on the griddle until all have opened. Transfer to a large bowl and continue until all the mussels have been cooked. Let cool until easy to handle and then remove the mussels from their shells. If any juices have collected in the bowl, pour them through a strainer onto the potatoes.