For me, new potatoes are a highlight of late spring and early summer. In season from April to July they appear with asparagus, and therefore will automatically have positive associations. Asparagus, whose all too brief season is now over, is something that is constantly in stock in the Feeder’s Digest kitchen from April to June, but having bought it the desire to eat it immediately means I can never wait long enough cook an elaborate recipe with it.
Once purchased it’s cooked as simply and as soon as is practically possible; briefly plunged into boiling water, griddled or occasionally chucked into the base of a quiche, but that’s about it. This is not the case with new potatoes. Whilst they are indeed delightful steamed with a knob of butter and a fistful of chopped parsley their versatility is endlessly inspiring.
Roasted they take on a quality that is unlike the traditional, floury roastie; with cut edges forming golden crusts, skins crisping and puffing up around the waxy, sweet, almost fudge-like flesh. Steamed or boiled until just tender and fried in a little oil they also offer satisfying textural variation. Since restaurants finally seem to be letting formerly ubiquitous ‘crushed’ potatoes drop off the bottom of their menus there may soon come a time when this preparation no longer seems tedious. It may even come full circle and be considered nostalgic and ‘retro’, the prawn cocktail of the tubers. That’s not to say it isn’t a pleasant way to eat early potatoes, just one that’s slightly over-familiar.
I enjoy potato salads immensely at this time of year, whether served warm or at room temperature. Cold potatoes are a familiar feature at Summer picnics and barbecues, but are all too often simply a combination of over or undercooked spuds dumped in a catering tub of shop bought mayonnaise. Never having been a fan of the white stuff it saddens me to see such delicate, flavoursome ingredients forced into a claggy, bland blanket of gunk. I’m not opposed to thick dressings on potato salads as long as they taste of something. Crème fraîche spiked with herbs and a little mustard isn’t a bad way to go, but this is the recipe that I come back to more than any other.
A number of the dressing ingredients are those found in tartare sauce, hence the name, but there’s no thickening agent in the form of egg or dairy. The salad is sharp and salty from the capers and gherkin and has an aromatic grassiness from the dill and rapeseed oil. This is combination I find far more pleasant on a hot Summer day than anything heavy and creamy. If you can find capers packed in salt then I highly recommend them, but brined capers that are readily available from most supermarkets are cheap, convenient, and work just as well.
Jersey Royals are generally lauded as the best early spuds available, and I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at them. However, if they are unavailable there’s a lot to be said for the Maris Peer, Harlequin, or the good old Charlotte varieties too.
Tartare Potato Salad
500g new potatoes
1 bunch dill
6tbsp good quality vegetable oil (extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed virgin rapeseed oil is ideal)
White wine/cider vinegar (optional)
Cut the potatoes into even, bite-size pieces and add them to a large pot of cold, salted water and bring to the boil.
Whilst the potatoes are cooking prepare the dressing by combining the oil with diced cornichons, roughly chopped capers (rinsed thoroughly if packed in salt) and half the chopped dill. The gherkins and capers should provide enough salt and sharpness, but if not add vinegar to taste.
Once the potatoes are tender drain them thoroughly and combine with the dressing whilst still hot.
When the salad has cooled a little add the remaining dill and serve warm or at room temperature.