One of the many components of putting together RJ’s now-famous birthday pig roast was developing a cohesive group of side dishes to complement the main course. We were looking for southern-inspired sides — traditional but not boring, simple but with great flavor. My contribution was a jalapeno cornbread; my mom brought her famous coleslaw; and RJ’s aunt Jane made a delicious slow-cooked sausage appetizer that satisfied the hungry folks drooling over the rotating pig. One of the stars of the show in my mind, however, was my mother-in-law’s potato salad.
This potato salad has made frequent appearances at large family gatherings since it is easily multiplied and contains no mayonnaise that will cause it to spoil. Delicious served warm, cool or room temperature, German potato salad is a crowd pleaser to be sure. The vinegary zing contrasts with and complements the sugar and this foundational pairing of sweet and sour reverberates through the layers of flavor: savory bacon with sharp mustard, creamy egg with pickles or raw onion. The result is a balanced composition perfect for summer picnics or winter feasts.
While this is not my mother-in-law’s recipe, the results tasted very similar. Hers has an oil vinaigrette base and less of the optional add-ons. Play with the recipe to your heart’s content — you won’t be disappointed.
German Potato Salad, adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 1990
(serves 8 )
3 lb. large boiling potatoes (about 6), such as Yukon gold
6 slices of lean bacon
1 c. finely chopped onion
1 c. thinly sliced celery
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 Tbs. Dijon-style mustard
6 Tbs. cider or champagne vinegar
1/2 c. thinly sliced scallion greens
3 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped (optional)
1/3 c. chopped dill pickles (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the whole potatoes into the pot and cook for 18 minutes or just until cooked through (you want them to still be firm but not completely crunchy). Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook the bacon strips over moderate heat until it is crisp and transfer it to paper towels to drain. Crumble or chop the bacon strips into pieces.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat; to the skillet add the onion and the celery, and cook the mixture over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the sugar, the flour, and the celery seeds, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the mustard, the vinegar, and 1/2 cup water, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, and simmer until it is thickened (this took me about 40 seconds but make take up to 2 minutes). Season the dressing with salt and pepper, pour it over the potatoes, and stir in the scallion greens, eggs, and/or pickles. This may be served warm, room temp or cold.