Monday, June 23, 2014

Taiwanese potato salad sandwiches

Tracy, Enzo, & sammie
This is a guilty pleasure of mine, a tiny monkey that has been on my back since my years in Taiwan. It seems to have Japanese origins, but no matter, as this is an indelible part of Taiwanese snack culture. 

Summertime is when this dish is most popular, which makes sense, as that is when potato salad makes the rounds of our own barbecues and picnics.

What makes this such a treat is not only the many different flavors and textures that find their way into the mix — anything from apples to ham to peas to corn to cucumbers to whatever you would like to toss in — but also the total carb fest it becomes when it is served inside of soft baked buns. 

Kewpie!
Taipei’s bakeries used this salad to stuff small, round breads, and the resulting contrast was perfect, so that is what I have set out to achieve here. I therefore recommend King's sweet rolls, a Hawaiian staple that matches the salad deliciously.

Another vital component is Kewpie mayonnaise, the Japanese mayo that seasons so much of Taiwan’s fusion dishes. I don’t know what they put in this dressing, but it’s irreplaceable. American-style mayonnaise is good, but the potato salad will then taste like American food, and that misses the point. Be generous with it, too, as it is the main seasoning.

I enjoy all the colorful bits and pieces that give the salad a good variety of color and texture. Who knew that peas could be so good in this, or that ham provides just the right jolt of saltiness, or that apples supply such a nicely sweet undercurrent? 

Summer delight
Plus, you get to mix and match the ingredients to suit your taste. Use all or some or none of the options — it’s all good. When serving this at a party or barbecue, I often offer one vegetarian salad and one with the ham, one with Kewpie and one with wasabi mayo (see Tips), so that everybody is happy.

Try this soon. Summer will never be the same.


Taiwanese potato salad sandwiches
Mayo & hot potatoes
Mǎlíngshŭ shālā miànbāo 馬鈴薯沙拉麵包
Taiwan
Serves 12

Potato salad:
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
Kewpie brand (Japanese-style) mayonnaise, as needed
1 medium carrot
1 medium onion, preferably a sweet Maui onion
½ cup frozen baby peas
1 Fuji (or other tasty variety) apple, unpeeled, cut into small (¼-inch) dice, optional
½ cup ham cut into small (¼-inch) dice, optional
4 hard-boiled eggs cut into small (¼-inch) dice, optional
2 Japanese or Persian cucumbers cut into small (¼-inch) dice, optiona1
Freshly-ground black pepper
Hard-boiled eggs

24 sweet raised rolls

1. Rinse and peel the potatoes. Cut them into ½-inch dice and place them in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook only until the potatoes can be easily pierced in the center. Remove from the heat, drain, and dump these into a medium work bowl. Toss these with about 1 cup mayonnaise while they are still very warm so that they absorb the dressing.

Chop stuff to same size
2. Peel the carrot and onion, and cut them into ½-inch dice. Place the diced carrot in a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer only until they are barely cooked through. Drain the carrots and add them to the potatoes along with the peas (which do not have to be defrosted). Blanch the onion in boiling water for a minute to make it milder, then drain and add to the potatoes. Add whatever other ingredients you like from the suggested list, and then lightly toss them with just enough mayonnaise to nicely coat each bit and add black pepper to taste. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it for at least a couple of hours — and preferably overnight — so that the flavors combine.

Get rolls like this
3. To serve, lightly toss the salad again and add more mayonnaise to taste. If the rolls or buns are not already sliced open (they are usually cut horizontally in the States), slash them down the center of the top and gently squeeze the breads open. Either fill the breads with the salad or set them out for your guests to fill themselves. Keep the salad cold at all times, especially in hot weather.


Variation: For a more adult-oriented salad, use half wasabi-flavored mayonnaise and half Kewpie. 

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