SOUTH GERMAN POTATO SALAD

Last weekend the weather in Seattle was beautiful and we had our first BBQ. It was perfect. All that was missing was a delicious Schwäbisch potato salad. Come to think of it, that’s what has been missing since I moved to America. While this type of potato salad is ridiculously easy to make in Germany, it is a bit trickier here in America. The problem is the potatoes. My cousin’s Grandma Lina made the absolute best potato salad. And all it consisted of was finely sliced potato, minced onion, beef stock, vinegar, vegetable oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of chives. Easy. Easy because the special potatoes used in Germany are very waxy and hold their shape when cut and tossed with the dressing. No mushiness. No inconsistent textures. Easy!

I have made several attempts to create a good potato salad since we moved from Germany. Some turned out better than others. But today I really wanted to find a technique that worked, so I made three potato salads. The result might almost be as good as Lina’s potato salad. I added pickled cucumber, which is not traditional for a Schwäbisch potato salad but I think it helps the texture of this salad. 

SERVES 4
  • 1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes (see note below)
  • 1/2 english cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise and cut into fine slices
  • 1 cup aged white wine vinegar
  • 1 sprig of fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 small shallot minced fine
  • 1/4 cup of beef stock
  • 1/8 cup olive oil plus about 2 teaspoons to finish
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt plus more to finish
  • 1 teaspoon coarse grain dijon mustard
  • fresh chives finely minced
  • fresh pepper

Note: All recipes for German potato salad recommend using red potatoes as they are more waxy than others. I tried using the very smallest, young, red potatoes but they are still not waxy enough. I have tried just about every “waxy” potato from the famers market with varying results. I found a recipe in “Cook‘s Country” magazine some years ago that uses vinegar in the water to cook the potatoes. I finally gave it a try. The red potatoes are scrubbed clean, halved and cut into 1/4" slices. They are cooked in 4 cups of water with 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for about 15-20 minutes. The result is tender very waxy slices of potato that made a beautiful and very delicious salad that is however very different form the potato salad I grew up with. The potatoes in southern German potato salad are supposed to be sliced thin. They are supposed to be mixed with the vinegar and beef stock while still warm to let the potatoes absorb the liquid. Oil is added at the end to coat the potatoes and finish the salad. The salad is served at room temperature. I have tried this method many times and for the most part it does not work. I think that using fingerling potatoes is best but I let them cool before slicing which makes their texture a lot more waxy. I have also tried to cook very thin slices of the raw fingerling potatoes in vinegar water and was surprised to see that they never seam to cook. Or maybe I am just not patient enough.  

To make the potato salad start with quick pickling the cucumber slices. Mix 1 cup of aged white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt together with the finely minced dill. Add the cucumber slices. Let sit for 20 minutes. 

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Boil the fingerling potatoes in water until tender but not mushy. Let cool. 

Heat 1/4 cup of beef stock in a heavy saucepan. Add the minced shallot, mustard, salt, and 1/8 cup of olive oil. Remove the cucumber slices from the pickling liquid.  Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pickling liquid to the beef stock mixture to taste. Heat through.

A beautiful version of a potato salad that tastes really good but the texture and look is very different from what I grew up with.

A beautiful version of a potato salad that tastes really good but the texture and look is very different from what I grew up with.

Potato salad with red potatoes. Tastes good but the texture is rougher than it should be. 

Potato salad with red potatoes. Tastes good but the texture is rougher than it should be. 

Potato salad with fingerling potatoes. Almost as good as Lina’s.  Perfect!

Potato salad with fingerling potatoes. Almost as good as Lina’s.  Perfect!

Peel and slice the potatoes thin. Add to a medium size bowl. Pour  about 3/4 of the dressing over the potatoes, carefully toss and let the salad sit for about 15-20 minutes to absorb the dressing. Check the amount of liquid left and add more liquid if needed. The salad is supposed to be “schlonzig” which means - well let’s say kind of creamy or moist but not soupy - I have no idea why my language coughs up all of these yucky sounding words to describe good food!  Add the pickled cucumbers. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper to taste, maybe add a little more of the pickling vinegar and finish with a drizzle of olive oil as well as a sprinkling of chives.

Serve at a BBQ or with sausage or meatballs, Schnitzel or roast beef with gravy. 

SOURCE: ADAPTED FROM COOK’S COUNTRY MAGAZINE

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