JAPANESE POTATO SALAD WITH SMOKED MACKEREL & SOY EGGS
Counter-intuitive as it sounds, potato salad is a Japanese thing! Although the version that you are likely to eat at a Tokyo izakaya, or pick up for lunch from a depachika (department store food hall) only has the basics in common with the Western version – potatoes and mayonnaise – and even then, there are important differences.
While waxy potatoes are usually used in a Western-style salad, because they hold their shape, you can use a fluffier potato for the Japanese version as the potato pieces are meant to integrate in a little more. The mayo is a similar case of same same, but different. The one you'll want for this recipe is, not surprisingly, Japanese mayonnaise (i.e. Kewpie brand), which is richer and tangier than its Western counterpart.
And that’s where the 'same-sames' end, and the true differences start...
First, lots and lots of raw, julienne-peeled vegetables – celery, cucumber, carrot, and daikon. These give the salad a fresh crunchiness, a lightness almost, and really help balance the heavier potatoes and mayo. (This is definitely not the gloopy bacon-y salad that we’re familiar with from picnic spreads and BBQ lunches.)
The soy-eggs are important too – cooked to just the right runniness and then quickly cooled and marinated in soy overnight to absorb some colour and flavour.
Last, as per the izakaya dish that inspired this recipe, I’ve included smoked mackerel in this salad. The smoky flavour is delicious with the creamy potatoes, and the texture of the flaked mackerel pieces works brilliantly to bind the salad together too. But if you’re not a fan, or can’t get mackerel, smoked trout could substitute, or, for a vegie version, omit the fish altogether.
(Serves 6 as a side)
- 700g potato – approx. 3 medium potatoes
- 1 whole smoked mackerel – around 350-400g
- 2 small sticks of celery
- 1 small (i.e. Lebanese) cucumber
- 1 carrot
- 8cm section of daikon radish
- 2-3 spring onions
- Just under 1 cup Japanese mayonnaise (i.e. Kewpie mayonnaise)
- 1 teaspoon of seasoned sushi vinegar
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Some chives – chopped (optional, to garnish)
For the Soy Eggs
- 3 fresh eggs
- 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons of mirin
- 130ml water
Make the soy eggs the night before by placing a small pot of water on to boil. Getting the cooking time of the eggs just right is important for dish because the lovely soft orange yokes also act to garnish the salad. Obviously eggs differ in size, but for a pretty standard medium to large egg, I’ve found the follow method gives the right result.
Leave the eggs in the refrigerator until the water is actually boiling, then carefully lower the fridge-cold eggs into the pot of boiling water and cook on a low boil (water bubbling, but not violently so), for exactly six minutes. Now drain, and plunge the eggs straight into an ice bath to quickly cool.
Prepare the soy marinade by combining the soy sauce, mirin, and water in a zip-seal sandwich bag.
When the eggs are cool enough to peel, do so very carefully (remembering the yokes are quite soft), and place into the bag of marinade. Gather the bag together at the top with an elastic band, (in doing so ensuring that the eggs are fully submerged in the marinade), and place in the fridge to absorb colour and flavour overnight. Rotate the eggs in the bag once or twice while marinating to ensure that they absorb colour evenly.
To prepare the potatoes, peel and cut into large (5cm) chunks. Boil in a large pot of water until cooked though (test this with the tip of a pointed knife), and then drain. Once drained, return the potatoes to the empty pot and place briefly back over a very low heat. Allow to steam dry.
After a few minutes, the potato should be sufficiently dry, and can be set aside to cool.
Next, prepare the mackerel by first removing the head, then peeling away the skin. Scrape off any dark flesh, then carefully flake into small pieces, taking care to remove all bones as you do so.
A julienne peeler is very handy to prepare the vegetables, but if you don’t have one, make do with a speed peeler and a sharp knife, peeling the vegetables into thin strips first, then julienning with a knife into fine ribbons.
Do this for the celery (it will be necessary to half the celery lengthwise first), the cucumber (cut in half lengthways, remove the seeds with a pointed teaspoon, then julienne), the carrot, and the daikon.
Depending on your feelings about raw onion, slice up either two or three spring onions into thin rounds and add to taste.
Next, break the cooled potatoes up a little using a fork, then mix through the flaked mackerel, julienned vegetables, and spring onions. Season generously with salt and pepper, then add the Japanese mayonnaise along with the sushi vinegar and mix again until everything is blended… Best though not to mix so vigorously that everything becomes a complete mush, it’s nice if small chunks of potato and flakes of mackerel are still discernable in the finished salad.
Now cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour in order to give the flavours time to develop.
To serve as individual portions, place a pile of salad on each plate and top each with a soy egg halved lengthways and a scattering of chopped chives. If serving in a large bowl or on a platter, chop one of the soy egg through the salad, and halve the remaining to garnish. Finish off with a scattering of chopped chives.