Monday, June 9, 2014

It ain't easy

Every time Jeff and I have anyone over to our house, I say to myself:  This is the one.  This party is going to be logistically easy and stress-free, and I'm just going to lay back and enjoy it.  I will not wake up at 8 AM for this party.  I don't need to bake fresh chocolate chip cookies halfway through this party; I don't need to stock the pantry with five kinds of brown liquor for the hot toddies; I don't need to shop at four separate grocery stores.  I will pare this party down to its barest essentials.  I will slice things off this party until it's just a fun-loving skeleton.




Fast forward to noon on Memorial Day this year and Jeff is slowly smoking two dozen chicken thighs on our little inherited Weber grill, and I've been up for five hours cutting up fruit for the vanilla-nectarine sangria.  You know, it was easier than other recent events at our house have been.  Unlike Labor Day, I didn't make twelve square feet of corn bread.  Unlike Christmas, I didn't have three sheets of compost cookies hanging out in the freezer overnight.  And unlike Thanksgiving--well, unlike Thanksgiving.


This gathering was really almost impromptu, conceived over a pig roast just a week prior, so we kept the guest list down to a mere 20 people.  Of course, because my job is scaling up chemical processes, throwing a small-scale barbecue just seemed like an invitation to make things that don't scale up well, like grilled focaccia with morels and green garlic.  Grilling bread is totally my new thing--at least, until summer hits San Francisco and it's too cold to grill.  I know what you're thinking:  no, it doesn't fall through the grate.  And yes, it is great.


Among the too-many things we made, though, this potato salad was definitely the lifesaver.  A huge cold dish that's easy to prepare and ready to go directly from the fridge, as a party dish it's hard to think of anything better.  While I make do make quite a three-bean salad, it's this potato salad that's going to be making a repeat appearance at every future barbecue from now until the next potato blight.

Inspired by Heidi's incredibly complicated salt and vinegar potatoes, which we made on the grill just a week prior and inexplicably decided to forgo at this barbecue, this salad hits just the right notes of sharp tang and cooling herbaceousness to cut through any heavy barbecue dish that you might make.  It's just about perfect as a side dish, and hearty enough to fill up any vegans that stop by too.

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Vinegary potato salad
serves 15-20 as a side

5 pounds yukon gold potatoes
white vinegar (up to 1 quart)
kosher salt
white sugar
1 bunch (5-6) scallions
2 tbsp mustard seeds (yellow or brown; I used a 50:50 mix)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch dill, picked or chopped into small fronds

Slice the potatoes lengthwise into 1/4 - 1/2-inch thick slices.  Place in a large pot and cover with a mixture of half white vinegar and half water (depending on the shape of your pot and potatoes, you may need quite a bit of vinegar).  Add a few very heavy pinches of salt to the water.  Bring the water to a simmer and cook the potatoes in barely simmering water until just tender.  Be careful not to let the water boil too heavily, or the potatoes could disintegrate.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and set them aside.

Meanwhile, slice the scallions very fine and toss with a mix of kosher salt (1 tbsp) and sugar (1 tsp) to taste.  Set aside and let marinate.

Toast the mustard seeds in a skillet with no oil over high heat until they just begin to pop (about 10-20 seconds), then remove the skillet from the heat and add the olive oil to the skillet.  Set aside and let infuse.

Once the potatoes have cooled completely, finish making the salad.  If the scallions have exuded any liquid, mix it in with the mustard-seed-infused olive oil.  Toss the scallions in with the potatoes, then pour the olive oil over the salad and toss to combine.  Top with dill to taste, then toss again.