Here are a few things that I remember about America’s birthday last year, and I ought to preface by saying: I wasn’t here. (By here
, I mean, I wasn’t in New York City, or Portland
… I wasn’t in the United States at all), some American turned Parisian friends and I were on that bridge in Paris that has become so iconic for Americans with images of promise on their brains, because it’s smothered with locks initialed and tied by lovers.
Leaning against that lock-piled bridge that night, we all wound up with locks etched on our backs: the kind of locks that form knots on your bones and that need skeleton keys to be reopened, ever gently, cautiously, quietly, in the way that only lovers can.
We ate grapes and camembert with loaf upon loaf of baguette and there was some kind of cured ham, if I remember correctly. Best of all, a few friends had brought sparklers that we lit with the same eagerness that a child attacks her first birthday cake topped ceremoniously with trick candles. Except these sparklers, must have been old and tired of making light because once we put flame to them, they crackled lazily and then they needed rekindling.
We sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” a song I barely know, having attended a most untypically American high school. As each sparkler died of its own accord, we would keep borrowing fire from each other, because when mine died, his sparkler was still alight, and when his gave out, hers was still aflame, and in this way, we re-rallied, we smiled into the flickerless night, passionate flames of ourselves, just a few steps from the Institut de France, a plastic bag caught fire and smoked at our feet. The night tore on in and out of sequence of custom.
But I’ve brought you here for another reason that has nothing to do with sparklers, but a little to do with smoking things (yes, you’ll want a big pinch of smoked paprika, to get it right!) I’ll skip ahead though, to the potato salad purist’s biggest observation: the fact that I’ve omitted mayonnaise here (blasphemy!). To put it simply, mayonnaise is not in the recipe because I made a trip to the farmer’s market and bought a bunch of fresh herbs (a thick bundle of chives, a bunch of dill branches) and began sprinkling them generously over the potatoes with a very heavy hand. Once I had done that, I really, couldn’t imagine muting them afterward with something so thick and creamy.
Of course, you could add the mayo if you’d like… but, really, here’s a salad that’s just as loud about herbs as it is about potatoes. And since my last Independence was full of stinky cheese, and utterly without spuds, I might have to make up for it this year with fluffy potatoes like these, that keep their skins when boiled just right, and that also soak up flavors and freshness like a charm. I owe it to myself, with maybe some sparklers. If you are stateside (or an American abroad), how will you spend your fourth?
- 4-5 medium-sized potatoes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- salt and pepper to taste
- flat leaf parsley chopped (optional)
For caper dressing
- 1/4 cup olive oil +1 tablespoon, divided
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 teaspoons capers
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- salt and pepper to taste
Fill a large saucepan about halfway with cool water that has been heavily salted and add potatoes. Bring water to a boil and allow potatoes to cook, covered, until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and allow to cool slightly before handling.
While potatoes are cooling, prepare dressing. In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil with mustard, sherry vinegar, honey and lemon. Then gently mix in chives and dill.
Chop potatoes into 1″ pieces and toss in a large bowl with butter, salt and pepper. When potatoes are cool enough to handle but still warm, toss with dressing.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet. With your burner set to high heat, add smashed garlic and smoked paprika, stirring until mixture becomes fragrant and then sprinkle with capers, tossing capers quickly just until they blister open, about one minute. Remove from heat and discard garlic.
Pour caper mixture over potato salad and season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably two or more. The salad’s flavors deepen as potatoes are given more time to soak up flavors. Sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley before serving. Serve cold.