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I know the start of summer heralds hot dogs, watermelon, and potato salad and Labor Day marks the end of their seasonal heyday; but in my mind, potato salad is something to be enjoyed year-round. Maybe it’s because our house favorite potato salad is a Japanese potato salad whose perfect balance of creaminess, tartness, and yes, even a touch of sweetness, is so delicious, I often eat it on its own, without any meaty or grilled companions.
The best recipe for Japanese potato salad comes from Shirley Karasawa of the now-defunct blog, Lovely Lanvin (lucky for us, she’s still very active on Instagram). The fashion-loving Japanese-American home cook, who splits her time between Seattle and Tokyo, has incredible taste in all things, but especially in food. She’s one of my trusted resources for Japanese home cooking, and her potato salad recipe doesn’t disappoint.
“My recipe was inspired by my favorite yoshoku-ya (a Japanese restaurant that specializes in Western-influenced Japanese cuisine), Edoya in our Azabujuban neighborhood of Tokyo,” she tells me. “Unfortunately the owner/chef retired earlier [last] year. After years of eating his potato salad and lots of experimenting, I was able to recreate it a few years ago.”
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Let’s all benefit from Shirley’s diligence. If you’re not familiar with Japanese-style potato salad, it is downright delightful. Unlike Western- or German-style potato salad (which I also love), the Japanese version looks closer to roughly mashed potatoes. It’s flavored with ample mayonnaise (try the tangier, slightly sweeter Japanese Kewpie mayo for stellar results), rice wine vinegar, and studded with refreshing cucumber and carrots. There’s also a bit of onion, which doesn’t add color, but certainly a welcome kick in this creamy, tangy potato salad.
“His Japanese potato salad was always perfect and had just the right texture with a secret ingredient that made it extra flavorful: karashi, or Japanese spicy mustard,” Shirley explains. “I think the hint of karashi and using really good potatoes (I like Yukon Gold) that you keep a little chunky, totally makes this dish.”
I have riffed on this recipe endlessly, taking liberties with hard-boiled eggs (often seen in both Japanese and Korean potato salads), corn, diced ham (which I think is more common in Korean versions), and diced apples (an addition my mother prefers). It is tasty out of the bowl, but even more delicious after spending a few quality hours in the fridge. I always make a double portion because it disappears at an alarming rate. As I mentioned earlier, it’s great on its own, but stupendous with fresh-off-the-grill chorizos, BBQ, or even in a sandwich with a thin slice of ham on soft bread (carb-on-carb action!).
While talking to Shirley, I became more curious about the origins of this Asian-style potato salad. Was there a German influence? After some deft searching on Japanese Google, she found a theory. “It seems the Japanese believe it was influenced from the Russian Olivier salad, which was first made by a Belgian chef in Russia. A chef in Japan first tried to make a similar version in Japan in 1896; and that’s where the Japanese potato salad came from, and eventually evolved over the years.” Interesting, indeed!
Courtesy of Shirley Karasawa/Lovely Lanvin
4 to 5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/3 cup Kewpie (Japanese) mayonnaise
1/2 cucumber (preferably Japanese or English) thinly sliced
1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
Extra sea salt for salting & blanching vegetables
Group A ingredients:
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (Japanese superfine sugar recommended, but regular sugar is fine)
1/3 teaspoon karashi, Japanese spicy mustard
1. Put the potatoes in a saucepan of cold, salted water so the water is just covering the top of the potatoes. Bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until a paring knife or wooden skewer poked into them goes in without resistance, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander.
2. While Potatoes are cooking prepare the other vegetables: Sprinkle both onion slices and cucumber slices lightly with sea salt, mix with your hands making sure the salt coats them evenly. Set aside for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes rinse off vegetables in a colander and wrap and gently squeeze vegetables in a clean dish cloth or a few paper towels to get all of the moisture out. This is a very important step and will prevent soggy potato salad.
3. Add carrot slices to a small saucepan of salted water, bring to a boil and blanch for two minutes. They should still have a slight crunch, do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
4. Place the cooked potatoes into a medium sized bowl and gently smash with a fork or potato masher making sure you leave some small chunks. In a small bowl mix together the Group A ingredients and pour over the smashed potatoes, gently tossing to evenly coat the potatoes. Add the onions, cucumber, carrots, and Kewpie Mayonnaise, and gently combine with the potato mixture until all of the ingredients are combined. Serve at room temperature or chilled in the refrigerator.
Header image courtesy of Hana Asbrink