Potato Salad with Smoked Tomato
The potato salad is a truly pure representation of American cuisine. No backyard barbecue can be complete without a large bowl of creamy, luxurious, and succulent potato salad. Red bliss, Yukon gold, or even Idaho potatoes, cooked tender, doused with copious amounts of mayonnaise- or sour cream for a lighter version- garnished with crunchy celery, onions and hard boiled eggs in some cases. The salad can vary through regions, sometimes adorned with bacon, cheese, scallions, or whatever pleases one’s family and friends. For a chief to reject the inclusion of such a humble and nostaligic treat from a menu- ignoring the potential to modernize and reinterpret the fundamental elements based on professional experience- would be nearly criminal in nature.
Yukon gold potatoes- the typical choice for proper potato salads- are sliced into thick cubes and placed in a cryovac bag with garlic, thyme, and enough extra virgin olive oil to create an environment for the confit technique. The potatoes are cooked sous vide at 90 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes until luxuriously tender and smooth. In order to add visual and textural appeal to the dish, the potatoes are briefly sautéed in a hot pan, creating a golden brown crust on top of the surface. The interplay between the caramelized top layer and the creamy, luxurious interior provides such a great deal of pleasure for the diner that it would be nearly enough to toss with fresh olive oil and call it a day. However, presented with unique complimenting and contrasting flavor elements, utilizing various techniques from the modernist repertoire, this potato salad reaches new heights in the culinary stratosphere.
Potatoes, tomatoes and olive oil combine to create a very simplistic and light version of a potato salad. Here, the tomatoes are smoked lightly to intensify their flavor. As chef Jose Andres has demonstrated beautifully, a tomato contains the most beautiful and natural gelee within its walls. Carefully segmented from the tomato and lightly smoked, the tomato “caviar” graces the top of one of the three confit potato blocks. This potato is scooped out from the bottom and injected with an incredibly flavorful sauce- as will be the fate of the other two potato cubes. In this case, the potato is filled with a black garlic hollandaise. The hollandaise sauce, traditionally made with egg yolks, lemon juice and butter will extend the luxury character of the confit potato, while naturally counteracting the fat with the incorporation of a greater amount of lemon juice typically applied to the sauce. Black garlic is simply fermented garlic that carries with it an incredibly mushroom- like earthiness to bring great depth to the hollandaise sauce, as it is pureed along with the succulent sauce.
Tomatoes and balsamic vinegar are a natural pairing reminiscent of some of the most classical preparations; ie.. Caprese salad. The outer “petals” of the tomato are smoked just until the skin begins releasing from the meat of the fruit. This internal indicator provides a chef with the confirmation that the tomato has received adequate treatment from the smoking process, and each bite will fill the diners’ mouths with a pleasant burst of Applewood smoke and tomato bliss. Heightening the effect of the balsamic vinegar, modern techniques are applied to the luxurious elixir, creating a radical transformation in texture and appearance. A bold red wine, such as Syrah, is reduced to a glaze. The reduction combines with a quality balsamic vinegar, and further reduced. Additional red wine and balsamic is added and only briefly reduced, creating a highly concentrated and incredibly flavorful solution. When the mixture cools, blend it with agar agar, and bring the mixture to a boil- whisking frequently- strain the mixture onto a flat plastic tray and allow it to cool. The result is a pliable “sheet” of balsamic and red wine reduction. Trace the tomato petals in the sheet and use the shape to perfectly coat the outside of the tomato, giving it a uniquely appealing aesthetic, and a remarkable flavor and texture.
One would be remiss in the exclusion of basil in such an extravagant preparation. In this case, a basil puree is folded into a soft Chevre goat cheese, lightened with a splash of milk and tucked inside the succulent confit potato. Eaten simultaneously, the balsamic coated tomato, confit potato, and unctuous basil goat cheese combine to create flavor nirvana.
Completing the trinity of potatoes, the last preparation involves a tomato juice capsule atop the confit potato, filled with a simple chive crème fraiche. Sodium alginate is combined with reduced tomato juice, and then dipped into a bath of Calcium chloride, creating a thin and tender shell, encapsulating the succulent juice. When one bites into the soft exterior of the capsule, the juice instantly explodes into the diner’s mouth, creating an extraordinarily exciting and playful experience. The chive crème fraiche is quite simply sliced chives folded into crème fraiche, serving as a refreshing palate coating spread for the delicious treat. Lemon juice helps cut through the richness of this particular plate- up.
In order to add another level of texture and whimsy to the dish, potato chips- appropriately enough- are fried and seasoned with tomato powder, then placed alongside the confit potato cubes. This wonderfully refreshing and modern interpretation of a “potato salad” can hold its own in any white tablecloth establishment in the country, though I would be thrilled to enjoy it at a backyard barbecue!