Chorizo Potato Salad With Arugula: A Mayo-Free Spin by Way of Spain

Ceramic bowl of Spanish potato salad made with fingerling potatoes, chorizo, and arugula

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

My wife, Kate, has a small list of foods she's convinced she doesn't like. An astute reader will have noticed that I've already revealed my bias: She's convinced. But I'm not. I have long lived by the conviction that if there's a food I don't like, it usually just means I haven't had a good version of it yet. The foods I hate the most are the ones I'll return to over and over, trying to figure out what other people see in them. It's an approach that's served me well—following it, I've learned to love chicken feet, jellied eels, blood sausage, fish eyes, all kinds of insects, and entrails of almost every species and function. Some of my favorite foods now are ones that used to give me the willies.

You can imagine, then, how I reacted when Kate told me early on in our relationship that she didn't really like potatoes, that they were a waste of space on the plate. I was a total jerk. Instead of respecting her opinion, I made it my mission to serve her potatoes in every form until I'd worn her down. I wanted to force her to surrender, and I wouldn't be satisfied until she'd waved a little potato-skin flag in defeat.

This fingerling potato salad, dressed with olive oil and infused with the smoky flavor of Spanish chorizo, was my first offensive. Or, at least, a potato salad somewhat like it was—I don't typically keep recipes of simple dishes that I make up like this. The original may have had mushrooms, and I'm pretty sure it didn't have arugula. Frankly, I'd encourage you to take a similar approach: Use this recipe as a collection of useful techniques, then do with them what you wish.

Fingerling potatoes simmered in salt water with aromatics

The first important technique helps cook the potatoes to utter creamy perfection: Start them in heavily salted cold water. I can't emphasize the "heavily salted" part enough—the water should be unpleasantly salty. Kept whole, with their skins on, the potatoes will absorb a tiny fraction of all that salt; the rest will go down the drain with the water. Use too little salt, and you'll just end up with bland potatoes.

On top of the salt, add plenty of aromatics to the pot. You can use anything—onion, garlic, carrots, celery, rosemary, sage, thyme, and more. Here, I've tossed in several dried bay leaves. Normally you wouldn't want more than one or two in the pot, but I really wanted the bay flavor to come through in this, and, as with the salt, the skin-on potatoes will absorb only so much, so I went heavy.

The potatoes should be simmered very, very gently until a fork slides easily through them. The more gently you cook them, the creamier and more tender they'll be later. Then, let them cool slowly in the cooking water. This, too, reinforces that creamy texture.

Rapid-pickling diced onion in sherry vinegar

The onions are another key component. Because this potato salad is so simple, I try to get the most out of each ingredient; in the case of the onion, I chop it up and rapid-pickle half of it in sherry vinegar, then reserve the rest to sauté. Getting this kind of extra mileage out of a single ingredient can be a very powerful technique: One onion can deliver both raw crunch, with a bright explosion of vinegary tartness, and tender morsels that are golden and sweet.

Cooking chorizo and onion in olive oil, then tossing with boiled potatoes

For the chorizo, I start with the dry-cured, Spanish variety, not the raw, Mexican kind. When you're buying chorizo for this, try to find a younger, more tender version, not one that's older and firmer. That's because you're going to sauté it in olive oil, which will crisp it up and render some of its fat. If it starts out too firm, it'll only get firmer, which could leave you with pieces of chorizo that are unpleasantly hard. Fortunately, young and tender chorizo tends to be less expensive than aged versions.

Cooking the chorizo in oil does a couple things. First, it deepens the flavor of the sausage as it browns, adding complexity to the dish. But it also infuses the oil with the smoky, porky flavor of the chorizo. I then use that oil to sauté half the onion, so all the flavors end up melding even more in the dressing.

Adding sherry vinegar to fingerling potato salad

To assemble the salad, just drain the potatoes. If the fingerlings are on the larger side, you can cut them into halves or quarters. Then toss them with the cooked chorizo, the sautéed onion, and the cooking oil. Using a slotted spoon, add the rapid-pickled onions, too. Then dress the salad with more fresh olive oil and pickling vinegar to taste.

Mixing arugula leaves into a bowl of fingerling potatoes, sautéed onion, pickled onion, and diced chorizo

Right before serving, toss in the arugula, and it's ready to go.

So, did it work? Did I convince Kate that potatoes could be something special? I'm turning to her right now and asking. "Hey Kate, what's your feeling about potatoes these days?"

"I like 'em. I really do."

I'll take it.

Beauty shot of chorizo and potato salad