Smoky Mustard Triple Onion Potato Salad

Nothing says summer like plain old potato salad with mayo, hardboiled eggs and green onions. Sadly, fewer and fewer people love this old-style summer dish. Vinaigrettes on potatoes are more in vogue, and power to them. A lovely way to add some flavour to a potato salad, and certainly safer than mayonnaise on a sunny day.

For this recipe, I have rudely gone back to my smoky onion pickles, like a mantra that I can’t stop chanting, a recipe I can’t stop spinning. Or a song stuck in your head, that you must get out by singing and driving everyone around you nuts. Except I can’t sing (or so I’ve been told). However, no one ever complains about the smoky onion pickles. Go on and make a batch. Super easy and really worth the effort for their versatility and strong umami hit.

If you don’t want to be bothered, just use the old trick of softening your onions by fine chopping them and adding them to the vinegar as the water is boiling for the potatoes, and add a bit of Lapsang Souching to the vinegar. You can fish it out afterwards, using a teabag or fine chop it and leave it in. Either way, you’ll achieve that lovely smoky, malty flavour without having to do the extra step of making the pickles. I just always have them on hand.

I also have the benefit of always having a selection of Kozlik’s amazing mustards handy, so I doubled down on the smoky flavour with their Sweet & Smokey Mustard.

I quickly brown some shallots or thin sliced onions in simmering oil, (à la Barefoot Contessa style) and then top the whole mess with chives, or green onions, or garlic scapes – whatever is handy.

Now, if instead of the frizzled onions, you wanted to caramelize some instead, and then top your potatoes with some Gruyere or Jura, well, no one would object! Reheat those on the bbq in a cast iron pan or brulée them in the oven and you’re a star. But the point is, these potatoes have plenty of flavour cold and can stand up to anything else just on their own.

SMOKY MUSTARD TRIPLE ONION POTATO SALAD

This potato salad is infused with the flavours of mustrad, onions and smoke for a new summer staple.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, British, Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup smoky onions, minced fine Or plain onoin, minced fine
  • 1 cup smoky onion vinaigrette Or plain white wine vinegar, with lapsang souching
  • 2 tbsps onion powder
  • ¼ cup dijon mustard, preferably Kozlick's Sweet & Smoky
  • 1 tbsp salt, fine ground
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 3 lb bag of yellow or red potatoes
  • ½ cup fresh chives
  • 2 shallots (or 1 onion)
  • vegetable oil

Instructions
 

  • Cut potatoes in quarters, then boil in a generous amount of well-salted water.
  • If you are using the smoky onion pickles, fish out the pickles from their vinegar, chop them fine with the tea leaves, and mix them in a bowl with all of the other ingredients.
  • If you are starting from scratch, place 4 tea bags or ¼ cup of lapsang souching in the vinegar. If you want to place the loose tea in a tea filter, you can remove it later. If you like to eat tea leaves, as I do, leave them in, breaking them first into tiny bits. Fine chop the onions and let both the tea and onions sit in the vinegar for at least 15 minutes. Then add the onion powder, salt, pepper and mustard.
  • When the potatoes are just cooked through, drain then. Add the vinaigrette while they are hot.
  • Thinly slice two shallots or one onion in simmering oil. Cook them, watching all the time, until they turn brown and crispy. Quickly drain them on paper towel.
  • Add chives or green onions right before you serve.
Keyword #lapsangsouching, #potatosalad, #smokyonions

Smoky Onion Pickles

You don’t have to be an expert at canning to make homemade pickles. Quick pickles can be made in as little time as it takes you to slices some veggies and bring a pot to a boil. These smoky pickled onions are a very forward and earthy addition to a cheese sandwich or a chopped salad. They are also fabulous on pâté. 

The various combinations of vegetable and seasonings that can be applied to the making of quick pickles are endless. For this recipe, however, I have added Lapsang Souchong to the onions for a smoked flavour. Lapsang Souchong, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a black tea that has been dried slowly over fire in wooden smoking sheds. Originally from the Wuyi Shan region of the Fujian province in China, this tea is also made in Taiwan, with notable differences in strength. Where the tea is made is not the only important difference. Production is one of two methods: a more large-scale, economical process and a more artisanal, traditional technique. 

The artisanal method uses fresh, young tips of the early spring pluck, cold-smoked to preserve the terroir. Rarely for sale outside of China, the production of this type of smoked tea is limited to a single region and cannot be said to be properly made anywhere else, in the same way that champagne is only from the Champagne region. The type of Lapsang Souchong that most of us will drink is made of larger, more mature leaves that were semi-withered and then hot-smoked over a fire before the final drying stage. This tea is more robust, with a more pronounced smoky flavour, and for the purposes of this recipe, it is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

As you can imagine, a smoky taste is a perfect complement to pickled onion. Vinegar, however, is a pungent preservative, and competes with any flavourings you might add to your quick pickles. I made the mistake of using a very high quality smoked black tea the first time I experimented with tea-scented pickles. Not only was it a waste of a rare, hand-processed tea (that was lovingly carried home to me from China), but the smoky flavour was overwhelmed by the vinegar. A waste of tea and onions, but never a waste of time to learn from your mistakes, however foolish. 

I used a charred-tasting, heavy amber maple syrup to complement the tea, but you can use regular or even honey or sugar if you prefer. The tea is the thing. 

Quick-Pickled Smoky Onions with Lapsang Souchong

  • 2 cups of white wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 onions, sliced
  • 1 oz Lapsang Souchong
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp amber maple syrup

Slice onions into pieces of a uniform size and place in a clean mason jar. Bring water, vinegar, salt and syrup to a boil. Scatter tea into the pot, let cool until lukewarm, then pour over the onions. Let it come to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. They will keep well for two weeks refrigerated. 

Scatter the tea loosely rather than using a tea bag for a stronger brew.

Sweet, salty and smoky, these are the first in a series of quick pickle recipes to come. But don’t wait for my suggestions. once you have the general principles, you can vary the vegetables, type of vinegar, and herbs and spices to your endless amusement, and be the darling of every summer picnic.

Chopped smoky pickled carrots can be added to cabbage for a tasty slaw.
Don’t be afraid to eat a few tea leaves.

tip:

  • let brine cool a bit, or pickled vegetables will be soft rather than crisp
  • green beans, zucchini, carrots, radishes and garlic scapes all make fantastic pickles, with whatever fresh herbs or whole spices you like