Nigel Slater is an English food writer, cookbook author and journalist. One of his recent projects is a cookbook called Tender. It is a marvel. Or, as the English might say, it tickles my fancy. I think I’m enamored because it’s so thoughtfully compiled not only with vegetable-centric recipes, but with insights into how the ingredients grow and what they smell like in the garden and how they taste when they’re fresh from the earth. Tender is a treasure trove of information with beautiful photos to boot.
I bought a sackful of small purple and gold potatoes at the farmers market the other weekend. Not for any particular reason, really. I like potatoes. That’s reason enough, I’d like to think. Later, I turned to the potato chapter in Tender and I learned a few things. Like, did you know that Marie Antoinette wore potato flowers in her hair? And, the potato plant was first cultivated in the Andes? According to Mr. Slater, the potato “was treated with suspicion when it arrived in Europe because of the flowers’ similarity to those of the deadly nightshade plant. They are indeed from the same family.” Bum bum bummmm.
Bump, our inquisitive, opinionated and incredibly loving grandfather, always said that potatoes were “the perfect food.” I think if he were here to expand on that statement, he’d tout tubers as humble, versatile and beloved. They are good mashed, boiled, roasted, hashbrowned, scalloped, fried, and as tots! “Beloved lumps of starch,” as Nigel Slater says. Indeed.
For potato salad dressing, I’m a vinaigrette fan. No mayo, thank you very much. I love the way potatoes soak up the punchy acidity of the mustard and vinegar. On page 444 of the Tender tome, there’s a recipe for “A salad of potatoes, mustard and cucumber.” I decided to gussy it up and make it a meal by adding smoked trout. The result was both humble and delicious. The best part is that it was even better the next day. I think potatoes are best when they have time to marinate. Quite like meat…or a deep thought.
A Tender Salad of Potatoes and Smoked Trout
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender
half a cucumber
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes (or other waxy, small potato)
good pinch of superfine sugar
tablespoon of cider vinegar
fresh ground pepper, to taste
heaping tablespoon of Dijon or grainy mustard (I like Maille or Plochman’s)
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 pound smoked trout filet
Peel the cucumber, halve it down its length, and remove its seeds with a teaspoon – they will only make the salad wet – then slice into chunks about 3/4 inch width. Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave in a colander in the sink for about half an hour.
Put a pan of water on to boil. Scrub the potatoes, thumbing off any flaky skin as you go. Salt the water, add the potatoes and let them boil until they are tender to the point of a knife, 12 – 15 minutes. Drain them and briefly set aside.
While the potatoes boil, make the dressing. Put the sugar and vinegar in a medium mixing bowl and stir till the sugar has dissolved. Add the black pepper. Mix in the mustard, then gently beat in the olive oil. Stir in the juniper berries. Set aside.
Slice the warm, drained potatoes, letting them fall into the dressing. Fold them gently into the dressing and let them marinate for about 20 minutes. Add the smoked trout in chunks and toss. Taste and season with sea salt if necessary. Serve with a crisp wine.