Potato Salad, My Dear Watson

Recently, Bon Appétit offered up a challenge so perfectly geeky and fun, I just couldn’t resist.  For those of you not already aware, Watson – the IBM computer that won $1 million on Jeopardy! in 2011– has been wondering what to do with all his free time these days.  One of the things he’s taken up is cooking, and it turns out that he’s quite the foodie.  He’s been learning about flavor combinations by studying flavor chemistry and the 9,000-or-so recipes in the Bon Appétit repertoire to come up with ingredient lists for new and exciting recipes that have never been experienced before.

The fantastic part?  You get to be Chef Watson’s right hand.  His sous chef, if you will.  Watson only spits out ingredient lists, not methods.  This means that you are the one who needs to determine how short ribs with fennel, smoked paprika, allspice, oyster sauce, and Chinese hot mustard works together.  And yes, that’s a real example of the mad genius of Watson.  The good people at Bon Appétit have been more merciful in their approach to the aforementioned challenge, however.  The ingredient list that Watson is offering up for this adventure is a little tamer, although still intriguing enough to get your wheels turning.  The challenge is to make a potato salad with the following Watson-mandated ingredients:

potato, watercress, scallion, ginger, black peppercorns, vegetable oil, canola oil, oregano, thyme, buttermilk, dark brown sugar, mayonnaise


Aside from these ingredients, you can only include water and salt, and you cannot omit anything.  To do so is to incite the wrath of the super computer.  We’ve all seen enough sci-fi to know that never ends well for the humans.  Hence, armed with only my grocery list and my wits, I set about to the task!


What I came up with is a salad that lightly roasts the potatoes, adding in the scallions and brown sugar along the way.  This allows everything to caramelize, get a little husky sweetness and depth.  Then the dressing, which is peppery and bright-gingery, kicks it into the opposite direction and lifts everything up.  I finished it with some flowering oregano and thyme from my kitchen garden… cause who wouldn’t?  They’re so pretty!  I did a few test batches, and got some good feedback for tweaks.   Everywhere I took it, it evaporated from the bowl within moments, so I take that as a good sign.  I hope you will, too!


Recipe: Potato Salad, My Dear Watson

Makes 4 side dish servings


2 lb red/ waxy potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 scallions diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon course sea salt, plus more
1/2 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2″ piece of ginger, peeled
1 cup of watercress leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh oregano
Fresh ground pepper to taste


Place a rack in the center position of your oven, and preheat to 425 F

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toss potatoes with canola oil and spread in an even layer on your lined baking sheet.  Place in the center rack of your oven to bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine your diced scallions, vegetable oil, dark brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon sea salt in a medium bowl.  Stir to soften and slightly dissolve the brown sugar.  When the 20 minute baking time for the potatoes is finished, remove the baking sheet and pour the brown sugar / scallion mixture over the potatoes.  Toss to combine and place back into the oven for an additional 15 – 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly golden, but still tender.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To prepare the dressing for the potatoes, combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, ginger, watercress and a pinch of salt in a bender.  Blend until smooth.

To serve your potato salad, pour dressing over potatoes (no need to coat entirely), and top with fresh thyme and oregano leaves, fresh ground pepper, and another pinch of course sea salt.  This salad works well at any temperature.  For a more traditional potato salad, you can chill the roasted potatoes and then toss with dressing to coat.

Leftover dressing is perfect for salads or as a marinade for chicken!


Categories: Dinner, Potato, Side dish, Vegetarian

Author:Mae of Little Fig

Food blogger, photographer. I


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