Herman’s Delicatessen on Geary Street in San Francisco featured what I, and many of the locals, considered to be the world’s best potato salad. It was a basic recipe of potatoes, carrots, mayo (Best Foods of course), parsley and vinegar. It had a silky consistency to it, very thin slices of potato, and was very white in color, as it did not contain any mustard or eggs. No celery, no onions, no pickles, no pickle juice either. Of course I don’t have the actual recipe and have tried to locate it for years, as apparently many others have mentioned when I started a Google search recently. Herman’s deli closed in the 1970’s and summer just wasn’t quite the same.
After Herman’s closure we found Lucky grocery stores started selling “San Francisco-Style” Potato Salad in their delis. If this wasn’t Herman’s original recipe it sure made a grand attempt. Once I moved to Washington State I was relegated to getting my potato salad fix every few years when I returned home to the Bay Area and headed straight for a Lucky’s store. But I still longed for a solid recipe I could follow and am not one to give up easily. In 2004 I contacted the Food Editor at the SF Chronicle and asked for help in finding the recipe – she kindly wrote a plea to the masses, but no luck there either. Then a few weeks ago I decided to contact Lucky’s and see if I could at least get the ingredients that are listed on the Nutritional Fact tag. They say timing is everything, and my timing was obviously wackado, as Lucky’s had decided to discontinue the product as of this March, after carrying it for about 37 years – what bad luck!
I regrouped and started calling the various Lucky stores located in Northern California in hopes someone would either look up the manufacturer of the product so I could call them, or give me the list of ingredients. I won’t go into details here, but I spent the better part of half a day trying to speak with someone even remotely interested in helping me out, but that unfortunate experience is for another blog. Note to Lucky’s stores (which are owned by Save Mart), in the spirit of Julia Roberts getting poor customer service on Rodeo Drive in Pretty Woman: big mistake – Big – HUGE! Just sayin’ – now I feel better.
So back to square one, but more determined than ever to figure this out. I had the basics of the recipe from years of taste testing it myself but couldn’t figure out that secret ingredient. But maybe it isn’t a missing ingredient after all, but rather a particular step in the preparation of the salad? Maybe?
Back to reading blogs to see if that will reveal anything – Chowhound has the most and best comments, either describing their remembrance of this salad and/or how to prepare it, or what they felt was that elusive ingredient. Some of the comments are quite hilarious. And here is where I think I have finally figured it out. Yay!
It’s all in the vinegar! While I have always added vinegar to my potato salad, as my Mother taught me – I apparently don’t use enough. Her technique was to lay your fingers across the top of the bottle opening (using Heinz White Distilled Vinegar), and then lightly shake the vinegar over the potatoes. This gave the salad a bit of vinegar, but not the “bite” or “punch” that I feel my recipe lacks. Not to be outdone I searched for the right vinegar technique, and lo and behold, there actually is one.
Follow the recipe below and I think you will find this to be a very good rendition of what is referred to as Herman’s Potato Salad.
2 pounds white new potatoes
1/4 cup white distilled vinegar – Heinz brand if you have it
Fresh curly parsley – finely chopped
3/4 of a carrot – grated
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Best Foods Mayonnaise
1/8 tsp. celery seed
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1. Peel potatoes, slice into thin pieces, and place potatoes into a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked, but not mushy.
2. Drain potatoes and spread out on platter – let them cool for about 5 minutes. While still warm, add salt, onion powder, and here is the “secret” – drizzle the 1/4 cup of white vinegar over the potatoes – they need to be warm when you do this. Leave them out for another 10 minutes while the vinegar soaks in and then place in bowl and refrigerate.
3. While the potatoes are chilling in the refrigerator you make the dressing.
4. Combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, celery seed (I crush this as I am adding to the dressing), grated carrot and the parsley. I use Italian parsley for almost all my cooking, with the exception of potato salad, where I use the old-fashioned Curly Parsley.
5. Once the potatoes are cold, add the dressing, gently mix it with potatoes and then chill overnight before serving so all flavors blend.
I hope Herman would think I nailed it – and be happy his recipe lives on. For those of you familiar with Herman’s’ Potato Salad I would be interested in knowing if you think I have captured the essence of this wonderful potato salad. And if you have the original recipe, or one you feel is closer to Herman’s or Lucky’s, please leave a comment with your suggestions – it will be greatly appreciated by me and others!