Strangely, given that we’re in the middle of what passes for a heat wave up here, it’s been a week of steady potato-eating. The other day, we discovered the steak frites at our local bistro; these fries are addictive — gluten-free, crisp, thin, and drizzled with herb mayonnaise. It’s a dangerous addiction to tempt: we can’t afford it if we ever hope to renovate this kitchen.
Last night, I made a clam chowder with 2 dozen littlenecks, onion, pancetta, 2 cobs’ worth of corn, and a large diced Yukon Gold that turned tender and mealy in the clam liquor broth and soaked up the brininess. Clams and potatoes and pork are an unbeatable combination, especially with corn and onion, especially in a savory soup.
The night before last, I made thick fresh organic pork chops marinated in orange and lemon juices, olive oil, ginger, a heap of garlic, Worcestershire sauce, smoked coriander, and rosemary, with boiled new red potatoes and steamed asparagus.
On another recent night, we made thick, juicy, lean, flavorful burgers, bison mixed with chopped onion and Worcestershire sauce and fried in butter in a cast-iron skillet, on toasted gluten-free buns, with oven fries: thin-wedge sliced Yukon Golds and matchstick sweet potatoes baked in peanut oil in a hot oven and well salted. We dredged them in a ketchup-mayonnaise dipping sauce. Alongside, we made a tomato-red onion-avocado salad. As we ate this meal, or rather, shoved it into our mouths, we asked ourselves how it was possible to drool and eat at the same time.
I’ve been making treats for Dingo by nuking cubed sweet potato on a plate covered in plastic wrap for 4 minutes. It might be the perfect dog treat. They’re easy to make and cheap. He loves them, they’re good for him, and they don’t make him fat. I throw them one by one at his head, and he catches them in midair, or doesn’t, and goes scurrying after them. He’s pretty adept, and totally game, no matter how wayward my throwing arm may be. If there’s a senior division in the Doggy Olympics, he might qualify for the 2013 Games.
And the potato festival continues: tomorrow night, I’m making a niçoise salad with oil-packed Italian tuna, those intense wrinkly pitted black olives, hothouse tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, capers, and more new red potatoes, boiled and sliced, with an anchovy-shallot vinaigrette.
Potato, potahto, potato, potahto! They’re so good in hot weather, any way you slice, cook, nuke, or boil them. They have a cooling property in the summer, although they’re equally warming in winter. They’re magical, like a Thermos.
On our walk today, we saw the amphibious tourist vehicle called the Downeast Duck trundle by us at the top of the Eastern Prom. A little while later, as we came along the trail above the bay, we saw it floating out in the water.
“I want to make a dish called Downeast Duck,” said Brendan suddenly, after we’d been walking for a while in silence.
I am always up for a speculative discussion of a hypothetical future meal.
“What would you serve with it? What cuisine?” I said. “Chinese? With rice noodles? Ginger-cilantro broth? Hot and sour or barbecue sauce?”
“Downeast,” he said. “So it would be Maine duck.”
And that was that, because he is the native of this region, and therefore the authority on all things local.
We batted this idea around, trying as hard as we could to include some lobster in our vision: duck confit with lobster terrine? Too fancy and labor-intensive. Roast duck wings with lobster claws? Funny in theory but awkward on the plate. Duck and lobster jambalaya, risotto, or paella? Too much starch all around. We jettisoned the lobster, or rather, saved it for another meal, and settled on the following simple feast: duck breasts, pan-fried until they render much of their fat, then a heap of cut-up potatoes, Yukon Golds probably, pan-roasted in the duckfat. The sliced crisp breasts go on top of a mound of julienned zucchini tenderly poached in chicken broth and butter. And alongside, a simple salad of sugar-snap peas in a dressing of champagne vinegar, hazelnut oil, and thyme.
Later, on the way home, the Downeast Duck drove by us yet again. We waved at the tourists, and they waved back.
There are approximately 1,987,998 recipes for potato salad in this country, and many more in other countries, especially Germany. But mine, I say without humility, is a good one, maybe even better than average.
Feel free to adjust all the amounts – they’re only guidelines, and everyone has favorite proportions that may differ from mine.
Boil 2 pounds of red new potatoes till their skins just begin to split. Drain them, cut them in halves or quarters while they’re still hot, put them in a bowl, douse them in apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper them, and chill them, covered.
When they’re cold, add to them 3 chopped celery ribs, 3 chopped hard-boiled eggs, 1 minced medium red onion, and, if you like, some diced cooked carrot. Other optional ingredients include capers, fresh dill, and anchovies. Some people love apple in their potato salad: I am not one of them. But go ahead if you must.
Make a dressing with ½ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of mustard, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 2 minced garlic cloves.
Mix everything together and eat right away, or chill and eat later. Very good with hot fried chicken, barbecued chicken, or cold leftover chicken of any kind.