If you're not from South Louisiana, you may be wondering what the heck potato salad has to do with a gumbo soup. The answer is surprisingly short- Germans. Yep, along with African, Spanish, and Sicilian influences, German foods and flavors have long simmered in the pots of our Francophile state. Sure, the co-founding Spanish may also love potato salad, but you won't find the traditional Spanish carrot or peas hanging out near a smokey, steaming bowl of gumbo. Instead, cold, creamy potato salad studded with pickles and egg and spiked with tangy mustard is so common a side dish here, my mom insists that gumbo "is just soup until your potato salad is ready."
And why not? The smokey andoullie sausage (pronounced ahn-doo-ee) that flavors our gumbos is a Cajun riff on a German smoked kielbasa. Back in the early days of Cajun life in Louisiana (1755 or so), many Germans migrated through or settled in the bayous of South Louisiana. Their method of smoking pork seasoned with garlic and black pepper caught on quickly due to Louisiana's hot wet environment that can quickly cause spoilage. Incorporating smoking methods ensured you'd have plenty of meat throughout the year. Heavy smoke and spice (not spiciness!) meant a little could go a long way.
While potato salad usually appears with gumbo in most households, each has a particular presentation preference. These are hard-and-fast beliefs, too. As most would assume, your potato salad can live an isolated existence in a small bowl on the side. But the more German your heritage, the closer that scoop scoots to the middle of your bowl- sometimes replacing the traditional white rice altogether. I'm smack in between the two divides. Just as pictured above, I serve my gumbo in a wide bowl that allows the rice to live on one side of the bowl, creating the perfect ledge for my potato salad. Once low tide hits my bowl, the last few spoonfuls are mixed and mingled and magical.
I'm a firm believer that recipes ruin dishes like potato salad- it's too personal a preference to stick with exact measurements. That's when a few clever tricks or techniques can make a big difference. So here's 4 tips that'll take your potato salad from good to gumbo-worthy, pronto.
4 Tips for Perfect Potato Salad
1. It's What's on the Inside that Counts
Boiling your potatoes in plain water won't make then any less plain, even if you end up slathering them in mayo. Try generously seasoning your boiling liquid with salt and half a cup of pickle juice for tang and actual potato flavor.
2. Give'em the Cold Shoulder
While we're talking about it, make sure your cooking liquid is cold when your potatoes go in. This makes sure the potatoes heat evenly instead of the outside turning to mush before the inside is cooked.
3. Season of Love
Once potatoes are cooked through, they turn into sponges. Be sure to strain them right away, transfer back to the still-hot pot, and let them cool and dry for a minute or two, then make sure there's plenty of flavors for them to soak up. Taste a piece. Does it need salt? Add it now, along with your mustard and pickles before the mayo creates a barrier between the potato and everything else. Add your mix-in's too- think seasoned shrimp, bacon crumbles, or finely-diced jalapeno.
4. You May-o or May-not like this, but:
... mayo is a dressing, not a seasoning. When you love, love, love how your potato-and-fixin's base tastes, add just enough mayonnaise for everything to come together.
P.S. My favorite mix-in are pickles and seasoned, boiled shrimp. What do you add? Let me know in the comments below!