We pledge allegiance to potato salad, so we partnered with Bradley Smoker to make one that's tinged with a lot of smoke and a little mesquite (and a maybe a little butter, too).
When smoking comes to mind, it's most likely that you think of meat and fish—smoked salmon, smoked brisket, smoked trout, the list goes on. Whether it's sliced thin and laid out on a board, or shredded, whipped, and spread on bagels or toast, smoked food has something mystical about it: It's a technique that seems difficult to achieve properly at home but that imparts a woodsy flavor and scent that feels as old as cooking itself. It's as if you're fussing with food over a fire somewhere deeply forested, or in good company around a pit you'll pull a whole hog from.
And recently, I found myself thinking, if meat and fish are delicious smoked, why not try to give fruit, or cheese, or vegetables a similar flavor?
In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee says that flavor is affected by several things. First, it depends on the wood you use, and there's a variety of options, like apple, hickory, alder, pecan, and mesquite. McGee mentions that woods like oak and hickory and that of fruit trees like cherry, apple, and pear are all good choices for moderate, balanced flavor.
A second factor McGee mentions is combustion temperature, which varies between each wood style. And, he says that in general the lower the temperature, the better the flavor that will be produced by smoking.
I wanted to go full flavor for my take on potato salad so I took a chance and bypassed all the mild and medium-flavored woods and went straight for mesquite, a very strong smoking wood that would stand up to the bacon I wanted to add. It didn't disappoint—I nabbed some medium-sized red potatoes and pricked them all over with a fork and then slathered them in melted butter, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I used an electric smoker, which took just a few steps to set up and preheat, and then added the potatoes and wood chips, and then gave 'em a few hours at a low temperature to get toasty and smoky. I let them cool, chopped them up, and tossed them with lots of good things, like celery, bacon, scallions, and creamy dressing.
And what transpired was a tangy, smoky, and a tad crunchy salad, with the all of the flavors playing off one another—the bacon heightening the smokiness of the potatoes, the celery and scallions adding crunch, and the dressing taming everything. If you wanted a softer flavor, you could easily use other types of wood for smoking: I think pecan or alder would be lovely.
- 2 pounds small red potatoes
- Mesquite wood chips, for smoking
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 7 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup yogurt
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 stalks celery, sliced into half moons
- 2 scallions, whites sliced thinly and greens chopped roughly
Photos by James Ransom.