One of the highlights of a Japanese meal for me is the potato salad. Leave it to the Japanese to elevate something so prosaic into a light, subtle and creamy dish, the farthest thing from the heavy oily mess that we often associate with potato salad. One bite of this delight and it transports me back to my childhood when I played tennis and carbo-loading was a great excuse to eat mounds of Japanese potato salad and Airheads (breakfast of champions). This was heaven for a kid who grew up in a very healthy household that didn’t even have peanut butter. Needless to say Japanese potato salad quickly became a guilty pleasure of mine. Nowadays I rarely get the chance to have this potato salad, only when I eat out at a Japanese restaurant or raid Valerie’s refrigerator and her aunt happens to have made a big ol’ batch of it. So I thought, why not make it myself? Turns out, it’s really simple to make.
There are a few key differences between Japanese potato salad and the traditional American potato salad. The first is the level of acidity. While American potato salad is usually spiked with a sour element such as buttermilk or vinegar, Japanese potato salad has practically none. If anything, sugar is sometimes added to the mixture or I’ve even had Japanese potato salad with chopped apples or raisins. The second main difference is the mayonnaise used. The traditional Japanese mayonnaise used is Kewpie brand, which is available in any Japanese market or sometimes you can find it in the international aisle at markets. It has a very different flavor from American brand mayonnaise and is generally less sour. I love this mayonnaise and use it often outside the context of Japanese recipes so I recommend you try it out. Of course, the world will not end if you use an American mayonnaise here.
I used a recipe from Just Hungry, a great Japanese food blog!
- 3 medium sized boiling potatoes, like Yukon Gold
- 1 small carrot
- 1 small Japanese cucumber or seedless cucumber*
- ½ small yellow onion
- 1 egg
- ½ cup of Japanese mayonnaise, like Kewpie brand
- Kosher or sea salt
*Japanese cucumbers are have less seeds and water and a more intense cucumber flavor. You can substitute with Persian cucumbers or English cucumbers. Try to find ones that have few seeds.
Place your washed and unpeeled potatoes, carrots and egg in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and after about 10 minutes, remove the egg. Peel and dice up the egg. Boil the carrots and potatoes until they are cooked through (the carrots will probably cook through first). You can check this by sticking a knife in the thickest part of the vegetable and it should release easily if it’s done.
In the meantime, very thinly slice the cucumber into coins. Slice the onion equally thinly from pole to pole. Sprinkle a large pinch of salt over them and let them sit in a bowl to release their liquid. This should sit for at least 10 minutes.
When the carrots are done, peel them and thinly slice them. Peel the potatoes while they are hot, your fingers will take a bit of a beating but you can use a towel to help. Dice them up and sprinkle a bit of salt over them and let them cool. In a bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots and egg.
Lightly squeeze the liquid out of the cucumbers and onions and add to the bowl. Add ½ cup of mayonnaise to the bowl and mix together.
Taste before adding any more salt as the mayonnaise and vegetables will have some salt in them already. Cover and refrigerate for an hour so the flavors get nice and happy. Enjoy!