I need you to help me with this recipe, play along if you will. Just close your eyes and imagine a gentle warm breeze blowing against your skin, like a soft blanket, whilst the hot sun sears through the atmosphere, partially muted by an ethereal haze, yet still causing you to squint gently as you lay back and gaze across the orchard and listen to the shimmering of leaves in the breeze.
OK, so hopefully that’s got you out of November and back into a warmer state of mind, which is where this recipe takes me to. Potato salad is a stalwart of a dish which creates summery childhood memories, followed by potato salad cook-offs with my friend at university (he put lettuce in his) before getting older, more creative and just making it up as I went along, using whatever was in the fridge. And I’ve been using a lot of mint recently, so there was a large bag of it in the fridge asking to be used for a minty potato salad to accompany lunch a couple of weeks ago, a throwaway idea to help empty the fridge. However, when I tasted it, I realised I had to share it. And I needed to do it now, rather than wait until next summer once I’ve half forgotten the excitement of discovering it.
One of my number one things I look for in a dish are bold flavours. That’s probably why I’ve never been obsessed with fine dining and high end restaurants, because although I thoroughly appreciate them and what they do, I just prefer making simple, powerful dishes at home. The levels of finesse and layering of flavours in high end food is astounding, whereas I’m becoming more accustomed to the idea of taking one strong flavour and making sure that’s your star, letting it shine through and keep everything else simply in a supporting role.
To make this sauce I’ve recommended using a pestle and mortar. You could make this in various other ways, such as just chopping the ingredients by hand, or using a food processor, but it won’t quite be the same. I was recently engrossed by this article on Serious Eats about making tapenade in different ways, in a food processor and by hand, in a pestle and mortar. It piqued my slightly peculiar interest in eschewing shortcuts when making things, because the upshot of the article is that tapenade is better when made in a pestle and mortar.
If you consider the method, a pestle and mortar combines the ingredients in a very different way to just chopping and stirring, bearing in mind that using a food processor is simply a very heavy handed way of chopping and stirring. When you really grind and mash everything together with a blunt instrument you’re incorporating ingredients on a very different level to when they’re just chopped and thrown together. All the fibres of the mint and garlic which hold all of the juices and flavours together are bruised and demolished, extracting and combining all of your ingredient’s highlights into an amalgam at the same time. It’s the culinary equivalent of a mosh pit at a heavy metal gig, whereas hand chopping and mixing is more like a ceilidh dance. When you crush something, you release more flavour, so if you lightly chop some mint, you’re only going to really release the flavour when you chew it. Chewing is something I have to make a concerted effort to do more of when I gorge on my food, so why not get those flavours out at the beginning, before we’ve even started.
By getting your pestle out and pounding everything into submission, you’re making sure that all of your cards of flavour are on the table at the beginning, there’s no danger of them being swallowed without being appreciated. It also adds to that other sense, smell. If people smell the dish before they get it into their gob, they’ve just had an additional glimpse of sensory pleasure, which humans thrive on, so will make it all the more special. Luckily, it looks great as well, so you’ve got a trio of pleasures all lined up waiting, ready to be experienced, whether your diners bother to chew or not.
Super minty potato salad
By Gavin Wren
Uses a pestle and mortar and a saucepan
700g new potatoes, chopped into bite size chunks.
20g mint leaves
1 – 2 garlic cloves, peeled (depending on how much you like garlic, I use 2)
15g pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
Put the mint, garlic, pine nuts, salt and olive oil in a mortar and pestle and bash, grind and mix them until you have a thick, lumpy, messy paste. It is easier to work it a little, until all mixed up, then leave it for a few minutes, as the salt helps to break down the garlic and mint. Then go back to it and bash it some more.
Mix the mayonnaise with the bashed mint mixture, then stir this all in with the potatoes. Serve.