So, last summer when an editor reached out to me about spending a day with a famous cookbook author as part of a larger magazine story, I had no interest. I didn’t know who this mystery person was but it certainly didn’t seem worth all the work that would be entailed in an over 12-hour day. In actuality, that “work” was later revealed to be horrendous things like “having hair and makeup done,” “gossiping with a famous person’s hairdresser,” “drinking pink champagne,” “eating homemade cookies for dinner,” and “meeting awesome people,” but at the time, I didn’t know this, and I turned it down. Then I learned that this “cookbook author” was none other than one of best-selling cookbook authors in American history and easily one of the three patron saints of Smitten Kitchen (other two: Julia Child and any one of our grandmothers) and I was all “SHUT UP” and punched my husband, who sometimes likes to sit next to me but probably not that day, in the arm.
And so I — along with a few other food bloggers — spent the day with Ina Garten at her house, snooping around her stuff (so many measuring spoons!), hoping to run into Jeffrey (alas, no dice) as part of an article about cookie swaps that ran last December*. I realized I should have told you about this sooner, that maybe this would be the kind of stuff that would be fun/relevant/exciting to share on a website devoted to home cooking, but you see, there was no tactful way to do it. Any casual attempt to slide “Oh, did I tell you about that time I hung out with Ina?” into conversation sound rather humble-braggy. “Oh, Ina and I, we’re like this!” would, I imagine, cause her lawyers to draw up the cease-and-desist as I type. And there’s really no way to “By the way,” an intro to a sentence that ends with you gushing about how pretty her hair is. (But it is. So pretty. See above: lawyers, letters, I promise, I’ll stop now.)
Really, I’m even only bringing it up today because I’m about the last person to peer inside her latest book (I was busy, you see, as it shared a release date with this pesky other book) but when I did, I made the mistake of mentioning to my husband that she had a recipe in there that involved almost all of his favorite things: potatoes, lobster, red onions, mustard, garlic… and he all but whimpered, so we struck an agreement that if he did all the procuring, my assistant and I would make it happen.
And I know you’re probably thinking, “Lobster, Deb? In a salad? We do not all have such bottomless grocery budgets.” and believe me, this is hardly our average Thursday night grub either. I considered extensively whether we should even discuss such posh things but concluded in the end several things that could make this more attainable: 1. About once a month over the summer, my mother-in-law calls us because the price of lobsters is currently spectacularly low and tells us we should come over for some. If you can briefly put aside whatever understandable caution you may feel about the plummeting prices of not necessarily sustainable goods, the next of these weeks would be a great time to make this. 2. While the proportions below are really, really luxe (1:1 potatoes-to-lobster, for reals), you could absolutely 2:1 it and nobody would be the sadder for it. 3. Lobster could be many other, more budget-friendly seafare, like shrimp or crawfish. 4. The part that really sings here (and I say this as someone not crazy about lobster, shhh, don’t tell anyone) is the blissful potato salad around it. True to Ina form, the salad is foolproof, all of the measurements are exactly correct for a thin, punchy dressing and a salad full of colors (orange lobster, yellow potatoes, green celery and scallions, purple onion) and the ideal amount of crunch. Even if you don’t make it with lobster, I have little doubt that you’ll find the salad without it to be heavenly. It’s the perfect summer dine-outside dinner contribution, and I hope you can find a way to make it happen.
* The article ran in Ladies Home Journal last December and if it wasn’t awesome enough that I got to hang out at Ina’s, with Ina, going to Ina’s favorite places (breakfast at the 1770 House, eee), snooping around Ina’s things (amazingly, I haven’t been invited back yet!), I also met these other fine, fine food talents.
One year ago: Asparagus with Almonds and Yogurt Dressing
Two years ago: Fudge Popsicles
Three years ago: Scrambled Egg Toast and Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys
Four years ago: Strawberry Shortcakes and Grilled Shrimp Cocktail
Five years ago: Haricot Vert with Shallots and Molly’s Spectacular Dry-Rubbed Ribs
Six years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Lobster and Potato Salad
Barely tweaked from Ina Garten
Serves 6, generously (or easily more if among many sides)
1 1/2 pounds unpeeled small Yukon gold (Ina’s suggestion) or fingerling (what I used) potatoes
Coarse, kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic
1 large or extra-large egg yolk, ideally at room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (you can skip this, or use less, with little harm; I used 1 tablespoon vermouth instead)
3 tablespoons drained capers (I imagine minced cornichons would be a good alternative)
6 scallions, thinly sliced (yielding about 1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, diced small (about 1/4 inch) (yielding about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, cooked and cooled, in a 1-inch dice (from about 7 to 8 pounds fresh lobster; see post above for better budgeted suggestions)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon (Ina’s suggestion) or flat-leaf parsley (what we used)
Cook the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with an inch or two over water. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, until just tender. (A bamboo skewer is ideal to test them.) Drain in a colander, and let potatoes cool for 5 minutes. Cut potatoes into quarters or halves (or fingerlings into 1/2- to 1-inch segments) and place them in a large bowl.
Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon salt, and many grinds of black pepper (Ina recommends you use a full teaspoon of pepper). Whisking constantly and vigorously, pour the oil in in a thin drizzle, ideally making an emulsion. Stir in the wine (if using) and capers.
Assemble the salad: While the potatoes are still very warm, pour half the vinaigrette on the potatoes and toss them gently, allowing them to soak up the vinaigrette. Stir in the scallions, celery, red onion, lobster, and add enough vinaigrette to moisten. Reserve any remaining vinaigrette for later. Add the zest and juice of the lemon, the tarragon or parsley, and more salt and pepper to taste (Ina calls for another 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, but this felt like overkill). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Taste for seasonings and add more vinaigrette, if necessary.
Serve: This salad is especially good served closer to room temperature. Don’t forget to share.