I first tried the combination of smoked fish and potato salad at David Wilcox’s popup (which sadly ended early due to a small fire that broke out in the building’s flute). It is a natural pairing — the smokey and salty flavor of the fish accents the creamy potatoes. My potato salad pairs the land and the sea, with the sea represented by the fish and seaweed, in the form of aonori (powdered seaweed flakes), and the land represented by creamy potatoes, crunchy onions, chives, and shichimi togarashi (a Japanese blend of seven spices including red pepper).
The fish should be the hot smoked type (wiki) which means it was smoked at a temperature hot enough to fully cook the fish and the fish can be eaten as-is with no further cooking. Unlike cold-smoked fish such as Nova-style, Scotch-style, or Nordic-style lox (wiki) which is cured with salt and smoked only long enough to add flavor but not to cook it (wiki), hot smoked fish has the texture of cooked fish because the heat of the smoking cooks the fish through. My source for smoked salmon is Gilmore Fish Smokehouse (yelp, facebook). They have several flavors, many of which would work in this potato salad (the pepper-spiced smoked salmon is what I used). The potatoes should be cooked until their edges start to soften so that when they are combined with the other ingredients, the oil and vinegar soaks in and the edges crumble and become part of the sauce. Use medium to large red-skinned potatoes; small potatoes have too much skin in proportion to their mass which prevents them from crumbling sufficiently. Aonori and shichimi togarashi can be found at Japanese markets.
Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon
- 1/8 red or yellow onion
- 1/4 lbs hot-smoked salmon (often sold as “smoked salmon”)
- 1 lbs medium or large red-skinned potatoes (about 4 potatoes)
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- pinch of ground black pepper
- dash of shichimi togarashi (a Japanese blend of seven spices including red pepper) plus some for garnishing
- lemon juice or sherry vinegar, about 2 Tbsp
- chives (about 10 to 15 blades), either cut into 1/2 inch batons or finely minced
- large pinch of aonori (powdered seaweed) plus some for garnishing
De-skin and de-root the piece of onion. Cut the onion into as thin strips as possible (i.e. preferably about 1/16 inch thick), following the grain of the onion, not across the grain. If the onion strips are 3 inches or longer, cut in half so they are bite-sized. Soak in cold water for at least 10 minutes to help lessen their bite. Drain.
Salmon flesh is arranged in layers which can easily be divided — separate it into individual layers. Remove pin bones, if any. Break into small flakes. Discard the skin. Place in a large bowl that you will toss the potato salad in.
Scrub the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into approximately 3/4-inch bite-sized cubes; leave on the skin. As you cut them, place in a pot filled with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by about 1-inch (placing them in water soon after they are cut prevents them from browning). Salt the water heavily (it should taste like the sea). Bring to a simmer. Simmer until the potatoes can be easily be broken apart with a fork and they are cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes or more depending on the size of the potato pieces and type of potato. The edges should have just barely begun to show faint traces of softening but the potato pieces should still have some solid texture and resistance when you eat a piece and should not be disintegrating. Use a strainer to drain them. Let the potatoes steam for a minute or two to help evaporate any excess water still clinging to them. Handle them gently and don’t vigorously shake them in the strainer because they will crumble and stick to the strainer.
Add the drained onions, olive oil, ground pepper, and a pinch of shichimi togarashi to the bowl with the salmon. Immediately, while the potatoes are still very hot, add the potatoes to the bowl and gently mix. The edges of the potatoes will crumble — this is a good thing for this potato salad since it makes an almost creamy textured sauce. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes, so that the potatoes have time to absorb the oil and flavors (especially the smokiness from the smoked fish) and for the onions to soften from the heat.
Set aside a pinch of chives for garnishing. Mix the vinegar or lemon juice, the rest of the chives, a pinch of aonori, and a pinch of salt into the potato salad. Taste and add more lemon juice, vinegar, or salt if needed; since the smoked salmon is salty, make sure you taste a bite of the salad with and without a piece of salmon when you evaluate the saltiness. The acidity in the potato salad should be just barely noticeable.
Transfer the potato salad to a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved chives and a few sprinkles of aonori and shichimi togarashi. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. It is best when freshly made, though it also keeps well for 1 day or longer in the refrigerator.
Variation: If using lemon juice, add the zest of one lemon when you mix the smoked salmon and potatoes. Substitute a pinch of red pepper flakes for the shichimi togarashi, and omit the aonori.
Variation: Discard the inner pulp 1/4 of a Moroccan-style preserved lemon (preferably made from Meyer lemons). There is no need to wash off the excess salt from the lemon peel — it will season the dish. Cut the skin (zest with pith) into a fine dice. Add the preserved lemon when you mix the smoked salmon and potatoes and use lemon juice (preferably Meyer lemon juice) for the acidic component. Omit the aonori and shichimi togarashi. Pluck the leaves from 1 to 2 stalks of tarragon; discard stems and replace the chives with the tarragon leaves. This will make a potato salad with a stronger and more floral lemon taste that is accented with tarragon.
Variation: If the smoked salmon has flavorful oily liquid in its package, replace some of the olive oil with that liquid.