Saturday, 11 August 2012

Cookbook: Peerless Potato Salad

I have often been asked, dear reader, how it is that I live so long, in such vigorous physical health and enjoying such inimitable mental powers. There are of course numerous reasons for that. A liberal intake of top quality Mayonnaise – Good for the Soul, Manna to the Mind! – has certainly to do with the little miracle. The music of Mozart, taken in fair doses at breakfast, helps to keep you young (particularly KV 299!) A little light exercise; an afternoon nap; the avoidance of all unbearable, arrogant, heartless authors like CĂ©line, Cela, Lewis Caroll and other perverts; a sunny sense of humor in the face of life’s cruelty and dullness… Each of these things contributes no little to a long, happy, healthy and holy existence.

Most of all, however, I owe my health, genius and bliss to the yearly pilgrimage homeward: to my short summer holiday in my other motherland, la Douce France, whose lush and bountiful soil reinvigorates a son of Marianne in the same way the titan Antaeus was revived, time and time again, by the touch of his mother Gaia.

Antaeus and Hercules

This coming week I will depart on that voyage, dear reader, and Metis Meets Mittington must necessarily close down for a week of two. But do not worry! Fall not a victim to panic! Before departure I will leave you with some tips for excellent books, which you may read in the Mittington Absence so that your mind withers not and Time lies not heavy on your hands...

And as for my culinary duties, I will today be generous beyond reason, and share with you a very well-kept secret, one of the most delicious dishes in the Inner Cookbook, the family recipe for incomparable, matchless, unsurpassed and unsurpassable Flemish potato salad, which was polished, improved and perfected over more than a century by four generations of Coulon and Haasbroek country women, my direct ancestors from Picardie and Mon Plat Pays, and which – if the honest truth be told - belongs more properly to the realms of alchemy than gastronomy.

Grandma Haasbroek’s Peerless Potato Salad.
First and foremost: this is, once again, a ‘Chronos Recipe’. That is to say: in order to get the best out of this dish, in order to ensure that the hidden aromas will be freed from their shackles and will rise to the surface, it must be made AT LEAST 24 hours in advance. You can eat this Potato Salad shortly after making it. But if you do so, you might as well have a ham sandwich. It makes no sense to eat this potato salad immediately after mixing it. The difference is between Maria Callas singing Verdi and your brother-in-law yowling 'New York New York' under the shower. If you see what I mean.

Grandma Haasbroek

Ingredients and basic operations

For roughly 4 people, gather together the following ingredients:

1.5 kilos of good quality potatoes
A single slice of boiled ham of some 150-200 grams, cut into cubes
A fairly sized onion, chopped into small pieces
100 gr of pickles, cut into small pieces
Three fresh lettuce-leaves, broken into small pieces.
Half a cup of fresh parsley, chopped (dried if fresh is not available)
Half a jar of your favourite, top quality Mayonnaise

Boil the potatoes. Let them cool down. Once cool, put them in the fridge without a lid. Let them really get cold and dry. After about 2 hours in the fridge, take the potatoes out and mash them. DO NOT CUBE THEM, but MASH them. We are not Americans (who seem to think that one of the Ten Commandments prescribes the cubing of potatoes for potato salad… Funny fellows!)

The Prime Material (courtesy Nick Shay Deutsch)

Add to the potato mash the cubed ham, chopped onion, chopped pickles, pieces of lettuce, and chopped parsley. Stir well. Add as much Mayonnaise as strikes your fancy (but at least enough to keep the mixture together!) Add a little of the vinegar from the pickles jar (two spoonfuls). Add salt, pepper and a little mustard. Stir well. Seal with tin foil or a lid. Put in the fridge. Do not touch for 20 hours (but 36 hours of undisturbed peace is even better!). A true little miracle will be yours…

Serving the peerless potato salad

An hour before dinner, take the bowl of potato salad out of the fridge. Clean one leaf of lettuce for every diner. Put the leaf on a plate, by way of a bed, then spoon a fair amount of potato salad on top of the leaf. Put sliced hard-boiled egg on top, and cover with an ample dressing of Mayonnaise. Decorate with sprinkled parsley and paprika-powder as in the picture.

Some tinned salmon or tuna on the side goes very well with this dish. Also some buttered toast or French baguette. For further decoration I would suggest: two or three small pickles, some pickled onions, a slice of ham rolled up, slices of tomato, one or two asparagus and whatever else strikes your fancy!

Extras and optionals

This peerless potato salad can still be improved by the addition of one or several or all of the following ingredients: fresh chopped chives, half a cup of garden crest, a hard-boiled egg, some finely chopped capers, half a spoonful of horse radish, a tea spoon of curry powder. None of these is essential, although I personally always add the garden crest if I manage to find it (no easy thing in the health-food-alfalfa-addicted sort of supermarkets where one has to do one’s shopping nowadays!)

Those of you who cannot or will not eat pork have a bit of a problem. The boiled ham is rather an indispensable ingredient in Granma Haasbroek’s Potato Salad. You may always try to make it with such alternatives as corned beef or chicken breast, but I cannot guarantee that the outcome will be felicitous…

In fact, anybody who does not Live In The Right Place has a problem. Both boiled ham and pickles are produced in vastly different ways in all Western countries, and the taste of the ingredients understandably influences the end product. I have made this potato salad in at least 15 different countries in the course of my life. It did not come out identical even once…

If you want a really heavy, sturdy, filling potato salad, then try boiling the potatoes in their skin. Once done, the skin can be easily removed with the help of a fork and a knife, or simply by hand. The resultant potato mash is 25 % heavier than when made with peeled potatoes.

You may of course experiment and discover your own variation of this classic salad, starting, so to speak, a new genealogical line. But Do NOT ever ever ever add such things as boiled carrots or mushy green peas to this salad. Both are too sweet and too weak, and they will kill the effect. Those who desire such ingredients should go for Spanish Ensaladilla Rusa, of which I will soon give the recipy.


  1. There are two hours to go to break my fast and now I'm starving :) We usually put hard boiled eggs along with the Mayonnaise in the Potato salad. Some South Africans even use a table spoon or two of Condensed milk if the Mayonnaise is very tangy. It gives it a creamier texture.

  2. Hmmmm... Is that sweetened condensed milk? If so, it's a little tricky, for you don't want your potato salad to turn out too sugary after all.

  3. Yes it's sweetened, but the ratio is something like a half a jar (or 300ml) of Mayonnaise to 1 tablespoon (or slightly less) of Condensed Milk, so its not that bad. I never ate Mayonnaise up until I tasted this combination back in 2006. These days I can eat the tangy one as well.